DECLARE US ' NOT GUILTY'
By Jada Loutoo Tuesday, September 11 2012
BUSINESSMEN Steve Ferguson and Ishwar Galbaransingh have petitioned the Supreme Court of TT seeking to have dismissed the multitude of corruption charges against them in relation to two ten-year-old prosecutions – commonly referred to as Piarco 1 and 2 – and a verdict of not-guilty recorded in their favour.
Lawyers representing both men yesterday filed separate applications in the Registry of the Port-of-Spain High Court, under Section 34 of the new Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011.
The legal team representing both men include Edward Fitzgerald, QC, Fyard Hosein, SC, and Rajiv Persad.
The new law abolishes preliminary inquires and allows accused persons to ask a judge to throw out a case if more than ten years have passed since the commission of an alleged offence.
In their applications, lawyers for both men advised that pursuant to Section 34(3) (d) of the Act, they are entitled to seek an order that a verdict of not-guilty be recorded by a judge of the High Court and that they be discharged having satisfied both provisions laid down in the statute.
In relation to the Piarco 1 prosecution, the men contended that they were committed to stand trial and the offences for which they were committed for trial were alleged to have been committed on a date that is ten years or more before the date of their application.
In relation to the Piarco 2 prosecution, for which they are still before the magistrates’ courts, they say they are also entitled under the Act to an order that a verdict of not-guilty be recorded in their favour and that they be discharged. According to their applications, the two necessary preconditions for an order under Section 34 (3) (c) were met in that proceedings were instituted and the offences were alleged to have been committed more than ten years ago.
According to the allegations against the men in Piarco 2, the alleged offences took place between January 1, 1995 and December 31, 2001.
The offences in relation to the Piarco 1 prosecution were alleged to have been committed between March 1, 1997 and December 21, 2000. They were committed to stand trial by then Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls on January 7, 2008. Indictments against them have not yet been filed nor has a trial date been set for both men, who have been tied to the UNC as financiers.
On August 28, President George Maxwell Richards proclaimed certain sections of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act. The Act abolishes the preliminary inquiry procedure normally adopted to screen serious criminal cases and calls for a Master of the High Court to review evidence to determine if the matter should go to a full trial.
Section 34 (3) of the Act, though, stipulates that this novel procedure cannot be used in relation to pre-existing cases in which the alleged offence took place more than ten years ago.
There are exceptions, however, and an application will not be granted in instances where accused persons have “evaded the process of the court” – a criterion yet to be defined and applied by the High Court.
Under the new law, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has the power to lodge an appeal of a decision of a judge to discharge, taking the matter to the Court of Appeal.
Galbaransingh, Ferguson and several others, including former UNC Finance Minister Brian Kuei Tung, former PNM Minister of National Security Russell Huggins, John Henry Smith, Renee Pierre, Amrith Maharaj, were all charged and committed to stand trial in relation to allegations of corruption tied to the UNC’s $1.5 billion Piarco International Airport project.
In response to a newspaper article which reported that the charges would be dropped “later this week”, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan on Sunday failed to deny that the new Section 34 (3) could have the effect of opening the door to an application by the accused.
The legislation was passed in House of Representatives and the Senate in November last year, while the country was under a state of emergency. Amendments made in the Senate were approved by the House of Representatives days after the state of emergency ended.
The section in question went through late amendment in the Senate and was one of the amendments approved on December 9, 2011. The amendment simply increased the length of time from seven to ten years, but preserved the procedure of asking a judge to discharge. During debate of the legislation, no mention of the impact it could have on a case like the Piarco case was explicitly mentioned, as Parliament rules prevent MPs from discussing matters before the courts.
The legislation, which had originally been drafted under the PNM administration, was passed unanimously in both Houses with Opposition support. Former Attorney General John Jeremie, who in 2009 proposed to bring the legislation to abolish inquiries, yesterday said the bill which he oversaw drafting of (which was never passed) did not contain the provisions in Section 34.
In justifying the new Section 34 (3) back in December 9, 2011, Justice Minister Herbert Volney noted the need, generally, to screen cases which have been pending for years and to prioritise “blood” cases like murder.
DPP Roger Gaspard told Newsday yesterday he was “gravely concerned” and was considering his options as it relates to the Piarco prosecutions. He said to say more would be imprudent.
Messages left for Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan were not returned.
See Page 18A