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Ish and Steve now head to the Privy Council

By INDARJIT SEURAJ Tuesday, May 4 2010

click on pic to zoom in
Steve Ferguson, left, Ish Galbaransingh, right....
Steve Ferguson, left, Ish Galbaransingh, right....

Businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson’s penultimate move to avoid being extradited to the United States, where they are wanted on fraud charges, was yesterday thrown out by the Court of Appeal.

But in a last minute reprieve, the appellate board granted the locals a stay of 72-hours from being extradited to the US.

During that time, they are expected to petition directly to the judicial committee of the Privy Council. The applicants yesterday lost in a 2-1 majority decision by the panel comprising Justices Humphrey Stollmeyer, Gregory Smith and Rajendra Narine.

But in his dissenting judgment, Justice Narine noted the appellants’ concerns over the closeness of the Attorney General’s office and politics in the nation.

“The Attorney General who is responsible for the issue of the ATP (Authority to Proceed), and who will ultimately make the decision to return the appellants under Section 16 of the Act (Extradition) is undoubtedly a central figure in the executive, and is an active participant in the politics of the country,” Narine noted.

He added, “The issue of corruption in the construction of the new airport in Trinidad and Tobago is undeniably linked to the national politics in Trinidad and Tobago. It was one of the main issues in the national elections which followed the construction of the airport.”

Narine’s comments came just as the nation is set to head to the polls for the General Election on May 24. Galbaransingh and Ferguson were said to be UNC financiers during the 1995 General Election in which the UNC replaced the PNM in government, and later awarded contracts in the Piarco Airport development project.

Narine also noted the concerns of the appellants, when the AG first requested immediate representations on the issue of forum in September 2009 even before the appeal came up for hearing. Also, his comment to the US authorities that he was looking forward to receiving the request for extradition in 2006. On the last point, Narine said he hoped the AG would afford the appellants enough time to challenge his decision.

“There is a presumption that persons who hold high office will exercise their functions in good faith. It is my hope, therefore, that the fears of the appellants are unfounded, and that in the event that he decides to return the appellants, the Attorney General will afford the appellants a reasonable opportunity to consider his reasons, and to mount a challenge to his decision, if there are arguable grounds for doing so,” Narine said.

Yesterday, Queens Counsel Geoffrey Robertson, lead attorney for the applicants, in his application for special leave to argue their case before the Privy Council, informed the appellate judges that attorneys in London had already started an application with the court registrar there. Robertson explained that they had started the process in “fear” of an adverse ruling yesterday. At the Court of Appeal, the appellants had challenged the decision by Justice Charmaine Pemberton to dismiss their application for Habeas Corpus on May 6, 2009. The argument put before the panel was that extradition to the US for trial would be “unjust and oppressive”, and they would not be guaranteed a fair trial in the US.

The charges stem from the Piarco Airport development project under the UNC and the Basdeo Panday administration.

On May 4, 2006, a Florida State Grand Jury returned an indictment against the appellants and several others. They were indicted on charges relating to corrupt practices in two of the construction packages in the project. The charges include conspiracy to engage in money laundering, money laundering and bid-rigging.

In late 2006, the other accused charged in the US pleaded guilty to the charges, and were sentenced to varying jail terms. Ferguson and Galbaransingh were released on continuing bail.

Douglas Mendes, SC, Michael Quamina and David West appeared for the Commissioner of Prisons, while Fyard Hosein, SC, also represented the applicants.

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