According to well placed sources, Special Prosecutor Lawrence Harris could be charged for a breach of contract in relation to his absence from a court proceeding. He was fighting a court case on behalf of the state.
Upon taking office in 2015, the A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition Government, hired six attorneys to represent the state in corruption cases levied against certain high ranking officials. These lawyers were placed under the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).
Apart from Attorney-at-law Harris, the lawyers retained were Michael Somersall, Hewley Griffith, Patrice Henry, Compton Richardson, and Trenton Lake.
The failure of Special Prosecutor, Lawrence Harris, to turn up at court caused Guyana the loss of a corruption case. In relation to that matter, Senior Magistrate Leron Daly threw out four charges against the six former high-ranking officials of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB).
These officials were slapped with fraud-related charges and placed on $500,000 bail each for failing to make a proper entry into a register of a company with the intent to defraud $362M from the entity’s Republic Bank account.
Based on information from several persons, Special Prosecutor Harris can be charged for a breach of contract. This is because, upon being retained by the State, the special prosecutors were given a contract to sign as agreement to go behind these cases.
The selection was very simple as the lawyers were told what the cases of interest are and they were given the opportunity to choose which matter they would like to go after.
It is still unclear why the prosecutor was absent from the proceeding. However, sources hinted that it could be as a result of poor preparation of cases.
For all the cases that were thus far brought before the courts, SOCU is yet to secure a conviction in any of the matters. The cases were mainly thrown out based on insufficient evidence. Moreover, the penalty or penalties Attorney-at-law Harris faces if it is found that he breached his contract will be to pay compensation to the victims and also pay for damages to that persons’ name, character, reputation, etc.
Dismissal of Court Case
The officials charged were former GRDB General Manager, Jagnarine Singh; former Deputy General Manager, Madanlall Ramraj; General Secretary of the Rice Producers Association (RPA), Dharamkumar Seeraj; former Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, Nigel Dharamlall; former General Manager of the Guyana Oil Company, Badrie Persaud, and the Deputy Permanent Secretary (Finance), Ministry of Agriculture, Prema Roopnarine.
Attorneys-at-law Glenn Hanoman, Anil Nandlall and Sase Gunraj represented the defendants.
The charges alleged that between January 1 and December 31, 2012, with intent to defraud, they omitted or concurred to be omitted $77.3M from the general ledger of the GRDB’s Republic Bank account.
Similarly, between January 1 and December 31 of the years 2013, 2014 and 2015 with intent to defraud the entity, they omitted or concurred to be omitted from the said Republic Bank account, $9.7M, $130M and $145M for the three respective years. They all had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In August 2019, following the dismissal of the first charge against the officials, the defence counsel had asked for the other charges to also be dismissed.
That charge had alleged that in 2011 at 166 -177 Cowan Street, Kingston, Georgetown, they omitted to enter some $52M in the GRDB ledger.
Special Prosecutor Harris, was given time to be briefed by SOCU and report to the court whether they are proceeding with the other charges or withdrawing them against the defendants.
The Special Prosecutor failed to return to the court and an order was made by the magistrate for a court notice to be sent to him.
On October 2, last, which was the adjournment date after the court notice, the prosecutor did show up. However, his report remained the same – that he had to be briefed by SOCU.
Another adjournment was given and again the prosecutor did not show up. According to information, the prosecutor did not show up on three different occasions and the defence counsel kept fighting for a dismissal of the charges.
Magistrate Daly eventually upheld their fight and dismissed the charges against the officials.
GRDB is the authority charged with overseeing the rice industry throughout the country. With regards to the GRDB report, it was noted that over a three to four-year period, more than US$500M from the PetroCaribe proceeds (Venezuela rice-for-oil deal) would have passed through the accounts of the entity.
Among some of the “anomalies” found were loans without proper paperwork or promissory notes. There were other instances of persons in the agency using GRDB’s money to trade in foreign currency.
The losses for the Government would have been significant, especially if the money was traded for less than it should have been.
The Auditor General and the forensic audit reports have all pointed to severe deficiencies in the manner the monies of the state have been handled by the entities.
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