Oct 29, 2020 News
Dem boys seh libel case…
Kaieteur News – Former Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited, (NICIL), Winston Brassington, has admitted that the Berbice Bridge deal favours smaller investors over the stated- owned, National Insurance Scheme(NIS)—its largest investor.
Brassington made this disclosure while under cross-examination in the libel trial against Kaieteur News over the “Dem Boys Seh,” articles which he claims contained offensive, defamatory content against him.
According to him, the reference in the article to “that fat crook Brazzy” in the satirical column of the newspaper meant and was understood to mean that the newspaper and its editor sought to convey that he as NICIL’s head was “dishonest, had been guilty of criminal activity and corrupt practices” in the conduct of his work in a number of projects including the award of a road construction contract for US$18M in the first phase of the Amaila Falls Hydro Project.
The former CEO was called again to the witness stand for a continuation of the libel trial before Justice Navindra Singh at the Georgetown High Court yesterday.
During the hearing, Brassington was questioned intensely about his role as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NICIL in several major transactions by the State including the establishment of the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated.
Attorney for Kaieteur News, Nigel Hughes, confronted the witness with a series of enquiries over his involvement in the procedures that led to the sale of several valuable State assets including sale of the Sanata Texile Complex; the disposal of plots of prime State lands on the East Coast; the contracts for the Amaila Falls Hydro project; the transfer of major shares of local telecommunications giant GTT to a company based in Hong Kong; and the development of the lands in the controversial Pradoville Two Housing Project, which were sold below market value.
While he admitted to having some involvement in the transactions as the head of NICIL– the Privatisation Unit implicated in the sale, Brassington told the court that he could not recall the details of those transactions.
In response to queries about his role in the structuring of the Berbice Bridge Company, and its sale of its dividends, Brassington admitted that he had formed the company.
He revealed too that the structure, he used to form the company allocated different levels of protection for its investors.
“Which institution provided the most money for the Bridge?” Hughes asked. “NIS,” the witness hesitated before responding.
In a follow response to the suggestions by the lawyer, Brassington admitted too that that the investment by NIS was not more secured than any of the other private investors.
He shied away from answering any questions about the deferral of payment of dividends to NIS.
He told the court that he could not recall the details of that arrangement.
Hughes then advanced suggestions about the sale of the Sanata Texile Complex – a prime commercial property, which was transferred to private owners.
“The acquisition of the Sanata Complex by Queens Atlantic Investment Inc. came under your purview as head of NICIL?”
“Yes,” replied the witness.
“Do you recall the valuation price before it was sold,” the lawyer said, suggesting that the property was sold at a price below market value.
“I don’t recall,” Brassington said before explaining that that the properties were evaluated by both the government and private evaluators before it was sold.
Asked about the tender process or whether the sale of the complex was advertised and put to tender by the National Procurement Tender Administration Board (NPTAB), Brassington said that he also could not recall those details.
Further in response to questions about lands disposed of by NICIL; the witness claimed that the transactions had more to do with the NICIL’s Board and Cabinet rather than NPTAB.
“It was a subject for the board of NICIL to decide and Cabinet to approve,” he said.
“But you gave your recommendation on these transactions?”asked Hughes.
“The recommendation was for the highest bidder to be awarded,” explained the witness.
“So funds generated by NICIL were required to be paid to the State?” Hughes asked.
“No,” Brassington said firmly.
The lawyer then turned his attention to NICIL‘s sale of GTT shares.
“As CEO of NICIL, you were responsible for the sale of GTT shares?”Hughes enquired from Brassington.
“Yes,” replied the witness before acceding to the suggestion that the shares were placed on the open market for tender.
“NICIL was able to obtain a buyer? As CEO, you did due diligence on the process of the sale to this company located in Hong Kong?” Hughes enquired.
“I can’t recall the specifics,” the witness responded.
“The sale of lands at Sparendaam, East Coast Demerara for the Pradoville Two project NICIL was a part of that issue?” the lawyer went on to ask.
To which, Brassington initially denied but later admitted that NICIL invested in the development of Pradoville Two because its subsidiaries had an interest in the project.
The lawyer then asked the witness whether the investment in the land development was in keeping with the NICIL‘s constitutional mandate.
To which, Brassington said that he could not recall.
The witness also distanced himself in regards to the Amaila Falls Hydroproject, claiming he was not responsible for that deal.
Meanwhile, earlier in the trial, Brassington faced questions about the alleged offensive nature of the Dem Boys Seh article titled “…Brazzy suit can mek bed sheet fuh Dharm Shala.”
Asked whether he regarded the article as news or satire, the witness told the Court that since the information was in the newspaper, he regarded it as news.
Asked if he found criminal offence inferred or implied by the words of the article “Brazzy, that fat crook, think that dem boys is li’l babies. He trying fuh put pacifier in dem mouth by filing not one, not two, but 13 lawsuits against dem,” the witness responded in the affirmative. He however, could not give an example of the criminal offence implied or inferred.
The lawyer questioned whether the witness had suffered any loss as result of the articles published in Kaieteur news on July 30, 2014. Brassington had initially stated that he did not suffer any loss of employment or money but later claimed that the articles which sought to paint him in a bad light, contributed to a loss of “potential employment opportunities,” overseas.
The witness however provided the court with no evidence of the alleged loss of potential job opportunities.
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