Jan 19, 2022 News
Kaieteur News – There is no evidence to support the contention that former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the New Building Society, (NBS) Maurice Arjoon, was rightfully dismissed from the mortgage financing institution.
This is the position of Attorney for the dismissed CEO, Edward Luckhoo, SC as he presented oral arguments in the appeal case filed by NBS to challenge the decision of a High Court judge to rule in favour of and grant a judgment award to Arjoon.
Arjoon and the mortgage financing institution have been locked in a court battle for over 14 years now. The court case came about after the former CEO filed a lawsuit challenging the grounds by which he was dismissed from his job. Arjoon and two of his managers were fired on allegations of fraud in 2006 regarding a $69 M withdrawal made from the account of Bibi Shamina Khan, a member of the society at the time. The men endured negative publicity, as well as a trial in the Magistrate Court before they were cleared of the charges.
An Ombudsman’s report had later confirmed Arjoon’s contention that he was framed for refusing to lend some $2B of NBS’ money to the Bharrat Jagdeo-led government for the construction of the Berbice River Bridge. Arjoon and another manager (Kent Vincent) then turned around and filed separate lawsuits suing the institution for wrongful dismissal. Arjoon’s matter dragged on for more than six years in the High Court before the Court eventually granted a $79M judgment in his favour. However, the matter did not end there, as the NBS appealed the Court’s decision to pay Arjoon.
Attorney Pauline Chase, the lawyer for NBS has since presented her oral arguments contending that Arjoon’s dismissal was justifiable on the grounds that he was found liable of misconduct in the performance of his duties. On Monday, Senior Counsel Luckhoo presented his oral arguments in response to Chase. During his presentation, the lawyer emphasised the lack of evidence to support the appeal filed by NBS to challenge Arjoon’s right to his pension and benefits as a former head of the institution.
The appeal case, which is being heard by Appeal Court Judges, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, Acting Chancellor of Judiciary; Appeal Court Justice, Rishi Persaud, and Puisne Judge, Franklyn Holder is scheduled to continue on March 1, 2022. In his oral response presented to the Court on Monday, Senior Counsel Luckhoo fiercely defended Arjoon telling the Appeal Court bench that there was no misconduct on the part of his client. Luckhoo stressed specifically, the fact that the arguments presented by the attorney for NBS (the appellant) were devoid of the evidence of the trial to support it.
To support his contention, he alluded to the evidence presented by NBS witnesses in the Magistrates’ Court, some 16 years ago.
According to Luckhoo, it is by their own admission that the witnesses of NBS relieved Arjoon of any culpability with regard to misconduct in the performance of his duty.
The lawyer noted that the evidence of the case only supports the stance that there was compliance by the former CEO or those below him in the chain of command at NBS as it relates to the withdrawal from the account of Mrs. Khan.
He noted too that the witnesses only corroborated the claims that all the systems, procedures, and rules that the society had in place were followed by Mr. Arjoon and his staffers. Mr. Luckhoo referenced the four levels of checks that were mandatory when it came to conducting transactions with the Society.
He outlined that based on rules of the society, these checks include counter clerks, the supervisors, and the operations manager and then review and approval with the CEO– was the last line of defense. The lawyer contended that the documents presented for the withdrawal of millions of dollars from the account of Bibi Shamina Khan were thoroughly checked by the staffers of NBS all of whom were quite experienced, particularly the supervisors who had 18-20 years of experience in their line of work.
The lawyer explained that based on the evidence in the trial, these rules included checking the authenticity of the documents, comparing the signature of the account holder to those affixed to the index card, and other important papers used in the transactions. While there were claims by NBS that Mrs. Khan did not authorize the Power of Attorney (POA) used for the withdrawal of the sum from her account, there was a great deal of evidence to support the authenticity of the paper.
For one, the document was executed before the Guyana consulate in Toronto in addition to being notarized by Mr. Tyrone Ramsaroop, Notary Public in Ontario Canada, who just happened to be the ex-brother-in-law of the account holder; and when it was checked out at the Deeds Registry in Guyana, that only confirm the authenticity of the document.
According to Luckhoo, it was the NBS internal auditor Mr. Raja Ram and another witness of the society, Mr. Nizam Mohamed, both of whom attested to the claims that the rules and procedures for the transactions were followed. He noted that it is the witnesses of NBS that confirmed, the claims of Mr. Arjoon. Luckhoo specifically pointed to the evidence of Mr. Rajaram and Nizam Mohamed, witnesses of NBS who stood.
The lawyer noted however, that the information was not volunteered by any of the witnesses, it was given only when they were pressed for the truth. “It was Mr. Raja Ram,” the lawyer noted that stated clearly that in his deposition at the Magistrates’ Court and later admitted under examination in High Court ‘I did not find the transactions to be illegitimate’”
He noted that the witnesses also admitted that there were weaknesses in the system but that it was not the responsibility of the CEO to address it – strengthening the system was the duty of the Board of Directors at NBS.
Mr. Luckhoo referenced several sections of the exhibits and evidence presented in the trial as part of his submission and pointed out that even as the appellant’s case lack such supporting documents, the legal authorities on which the case relied were also misplaced. “Your honours, the case particular, a cane cutter was found guilty of misconduct because he had threatened his supervisor with a cutlass ….there is no relevance to this matter,” Luckhoo said. Taking all the evidence and circumstances into consideration, the lawyer held that the judgment of the High Court could not have been more accurate and fitting. Mr. Luckhoo is scheduled to continue his presentation when the case continues in March.
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