Piarco airport accused fraudsters not going free yet

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago, Thursday, September 13, 2012 – Parliamentarians on both sides of the political divide weighed in yesterday (September 12) to retroactively repeal a law that could have seen one of the biggest fraud cases in the country’s history dismissed without a single conviction.

On August 30, the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act was gazetted and, contained within that act was Section 34(2), which states: “On an application by the accused, a Judge shall discharge an accused if the proceedings were instituted prior to the coming into force of this Act and the trial has not commenced within seven years after the proceedings were instituted, except (a) in the case of matters listed in Schedule 6; or (b) where the accused has evaded the process of the Court and the trial on indictment has, for that reason, not commenced.”

The Piarco Airport Development Project scandal has been ongoing for more than ten years and businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, who have pending cases linked to their alleged involvement in the Piarco Airport corruption scandal, have used the early proclamation to file petitions in court. On Monday (September 10), they filed actions in the Port of Spain High Court, seeking a judge’s order that, based on the Section 34 of the Act, their corruption charges to be discharged and not guilty verdicts be recorded in their favour.

However, yesterday’s emergency sitting of parliament called by Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar to deal with the controversial clause has resulted in an agreement by both government and opposition representatives to repeal the section retroactively to the date the law was passed.

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said yesterday. “No one is above the law…if a legal challenge is mounted, I’m confident the State will be able to assert its rights,” he said as he piloted three amendments to repeal the controversial section in the House of Representatives yesterday.

The overall act was intended to end preliminary inquiries in the magistrate’s court. Section 34, however, allows for an application to be made for a case to be thrown out and discharge of the accused if more than ten years have passed since the offence and if their trial has not yet started.

Ramlogan said the new amendments were meant to correct a “clear oversight by the entire Parliament” including Government, Opposition and Independents in failing “to appreciate the unintended consequence and implications of the one provision.” He said: “So the Parliament should man up, take responsibility for the oversight and say there’s a problem and we humbly apologise and say we should correct it…It’s counterproductive to ascribe blame.”

He said the repeal provisions sought to “immunise the State”?from legal challenge. Ramlogan said after Section 34 became law, it was evident there was public “disquiet” on the matter and after concern was articulated, the Government showed it was prepared to listen.

Galbaransingh and Ferguson, along with former finance minister Brian Kuei-Tung; former Works minister Sadiq Baksh; former chairmen of the Airports Authority Tyrone Gopee and Ameer Edoo; former client representative in the Ministry of Works at the airport project Peter Cateau; financial director Amrith Maharaj; were accused of conspiring between January 1, 1995 and December 31, 2001, to obtain contracts and payments totalling TT$1.6 billion during the construction of the new airport.

Galbaransingh and Ferguson are also wanted in the United States on a series of charges arising out of the construction of the Piarco project and the recent developments caught the attention of the US government who issued a statement on Tuesday (September 11) expressing their concern.

“Mr Galbaransingh and Mr Ferguson are accused of committing fraud involving millions of dollars. It would be highly disappointing if, after years of investigation, their case was not brought to trial,” read the statement by the US embassy in Trinidad and Tobago.  Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)