CJ impeachment tribunal hearing ends

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, September 28, 2007 – A tribunal hearing into whether Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma should be removed from office has ended in Port of Spain Thursday after two weeks of hearing and without three key witnesses.


Absent were Attorney General John Jeremie, Louis Monteil – the Group Financial Director of CL Financial Limited, and Anthony Fifi, head of Home Construction Ltd.


Sharma stands accused of attempting to influence the outcome of a case involving former prime minister Basdeo Panday.


The case was being heard by Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicholls. He found Panday guilty of not declaring all of his assets – as the law requires – while he was prime minister.


McNicholls complained to Prime Minister Patrick Manning that Sharma tried to interfere in the case to which the prime minister asked Sharma to resign or face prosecution. The chief justice refused, leading to a prolonged and dramatic battle played out in the press, police action, and the law courts for over a year.


A previous court case against Sharma collapsed after McNicholls refused to testify. The final option to impeach the chief justice, who retires early next year, is the tribunal hearing appointed by the president of the twin island republic.


SHARMA’S DEFENCE


The crux of Sharma’s defence is that McNicholls lied to the prime minister.


The reason?


Sharma said he found out about a TT$400,000 (US$66,666) bribe to McNicholls from CL Financial Limited and confronted McNicholls who panicked and ran to the prime minister with a made-up story about an interference in the Panday trial.


McNicholls said that it was a down payment for a TT$4m land sale to head of CL Communications, Anthony Maharaj.


However Sharma insisted that the money was a bribe to either favour the testimony of CL Financial executive chairman Lawrence Duprey, who gave evidence during Panday’s trial, or an attempt by the company to have McNicolls in its corner.


The money in question was refunded and the land deal cancelled but Sharma contended that Attorney General Jeremie had a hand in getting the construction company to reverse its policy so that McNicholls could re-purchase the land he sold to it. That firm is also owned by CL Financial.


Attorney for Sharma, Geoffrey Robertson QC, told the tribunal, headed by Lord Michael Mustill, that both Louis Monteil – the Group Financial Director of CL Financial Limited – and Anthony Fifi, head of Home Construction Ltd, left Trinidad after they were told they may be needed at the hearing.


Lord Michael said that he could not compel them or the attorney general to attend.


“We cannot send to search the countryside, the beaches or the Mediterranean to find them. We are disappointed that the attorney general chose not to come. We will all be disappointed if Mr Monteil is found and he does not want to come.”


The Attorney General sent a letter to the tribunal denying the allegations, by Sharma, of his involvement in the alleged affair to frame him.


He said he found no evidence of Sharma’s conspiracies theories before and therefore, could not assist the tribunal other than to refer to statements he previously made.


MCNICHOLLS ARGUMENT


Lead attorney for McNicholls, Stanley Marcus, SC, said Sharma allegations have now shifted indicating that they were untrue.


He said that it was Sharma who concocted and spun this tale as a smoke screen to deflect attention away from his own misdeeds for which he stood accused.


He said what Sharma advanced was not supported by evidence.


The tribunal which includes Sir Vincent Floissac QC, and Dennis Morrison QC will deliver their findings to President George Maxwell.