Chief Jus­tice sets December for rul­ing on va­lid­ity of mis­con­duct charges against Singh, Brass­ing­ton

Stabroek News - - WORLD NEWS -

Hav­ing com­pleted hear­ing all arguments, act­ing Chief Jus­tice Rox­ane Ge­orge SC has ten­ta­tively set December 3rd for rul­ing in the chal­lenge mounted by Dr Ashni Singh and Win­ston Brass­ing­ton to the va­lid­ity of the charges lev­elled against them over the sale of govern­ment lands.

Singh, the for­mer Fi­nance Min­is­ter, and Brass­ing­ton, for­mer head of the Na­tional In­dus­trial and Com­mer­cial In­vest­ments Lim­ited (NICIL), are chal­leng­ing the charges laid against them by the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions (DPP).

At a fi­nal hear­ing for arguments on Thurs­day af­ter­noon, at­tor­ney Anil Nand­lall who is rep­re­sent­ing the men sought to re­fute the state’s con­tention that no ba­sis had been laid by his clients to war­rant the charges be­ing with­drawn.

He re­futed the po­si­tion of So­lic­i­tor-Gen­eral (SG) Kim Kyte-Thomas that the sale ex­e­cuted by the two had not been done with pru­dence or with an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for mar­ket value.

Nand­lall’s con­tention is that the ap­pli­cants were car­ry­ing out the man­date of govern­ment at the time, which had taken a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion to have the lands sold.

He said that they were act­ing on be­half of NICIL. He said it was this en­tity which au­tho­rised the sale and not Singh or Brass­ing­ton and to this end ques­tioned why the DPP would have sin­gled out just two per­sons and not charge the en­tire board of NICIL also.

He said that while one has to be a pru­dent vendor, as­sum­ing but not accepting that his clients were im­pru­dent could not amount to their ac­tions be­ing crim­i­nal or that crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity should be at­tached to them.

He said at best one may want to ar­gue that it was a bad po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion to have sold the lands in the man­ner they were sold but that it could not be the stan­dard of the crim­i­nal law that such ac­tions should give rise to crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity.

Nand­lall ar­gued that the crim­i­nal law could not at­tract sanction for the use of an opin­ion on a valu­a­tion from one per­son against an­other. “So how are they charged with mis­con­duct in pub­lic of­fice when it was NICIL who sold?” Nand­lall asked.

He said that the trans­ac­tion was stan­dard pro­ce­dure at the time, given the mar­ket value at which the govern­ment de­cided to sell, ir­re­spec­tive of an opin­ion of one valu­a­tion of­fi­cer. “It is just that, an opin­ion,” he ar­gued.

Nand­lall said that opin­ions are given all the time in the busi­ness trans­ac­tions and one may be taken above an­other, but this does not give rise to a crim­i­nal act.

The lawyer said that the SG failed to grasp one of the fun­da­men­tal thrusts of his arguments—that the par­tic­u­lars of the charges lev­elled against his clients do not amount to the state­ment of the of­fence.

On this point, he said that the state has failed to sub­stan­ti­ate that his clients ben­e­fit­ted per­son­ally from the sale or were dis­hon­est in their deal­ings with the trans­ac­tions, which, he reem­pha­sized, were poli­cies be­ing ex­e­cuted by a board on be­half of govern­ment.

In pre­vi­ous sub­mis­sions, Kyte-Thomas had ad­vanced that the sale ex­e­cuted by the two had not been done with pru­dence or with an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for mar­ket value.

She had said that in some in­stances no valu­a­tion had been ac­quired be­fore the sale and in oth­ers, while val­u­a­tions were ac­quired, the two none­the­less went ahead and sold the lands far be­low mar­ket value.

She ar­gued ve­he­mently that Singh and Brass­ing­ton, as pub­lic of­fi­cials, ought to have been pru­dent in their han­dling of the af­fairs of the state as they were hold­ing on trust.

In their ap­pli­ca­tion chal­leng­ing the va­lid­ity of the charges, the men are seek­ing to have the DPP’s de­ci­sion to in­sti­tute the charges against them re­viewed and ul­ti­mately quashed.

Singh and Brass­ing­ton have been jointly charged with three counts of mis­con­duct in pub­lic of­fice over the sale of three tracts of govern­ment land on the East Coast of De­mer­ara, be­tween December, 2008 and May, 2011. In one in­stance, it is al­leged that the prop­erty was sold be­low mar­ket value, while in the other two the deals went ahead with­out proper val­u­a­tions of the land.

It is al­leged that Singh and Brass­ing­ton sold a tract of land, be­ing 4.7 acres at Plan­ta­tion Lilien-daal, East Coast De­mer­ara, which was the prop­erty of Guyana, for the sum of $150 mil­lion to Scady Busi­ness Cor­po­ra­tion, while know­ing that the prop­erty was val­ued at $340 mil­lion by Ro­drigues Ar­chi­tects Lim­ited. It is also al­leged that by way of agree­ment of sale and pur­chase, they acted reck­lessly when they sold a tract of land, which was a por­tion of Plan­ta­tion Lilien­daal, Pat­tensen and Turkeyen, East Coast De­mer­ara, be­ing 103.88 acres, to Na­tional Hard­ware Guyana Lim­ited for $598,659,398 (VAT exclusive), with­out hav­ing a valu­a­tion of the prop­erty from a com­pe­tent valu­a­tion of­fi­cer.

It was also al­leged that they acted reck­lessly when they sold a 10-acre tract of land at Plan­ta­tion Turkeyen, which was the prop­erty of Guyana, for the sum of $185,037,000 to Mul­ticin­e­mas Guyana Inc, with­out procur­ing a valu­a­tion of the said prop­erty from a com­pe­tent valu­a­tion of­fi­cer.

Nand­lall is con­tend­ing that his clients were at all times act­ing as a part of a col­lec­tive—Singh as a mem­ber of Cabi­net, and he and Brass­ing­ton as mem­bers of a Board of Directors. “They were sim­ply car­ry­ing out the de­ci­sion of th­ese two agen­cies,” he has stressed.

Win­ston Brass­ing­ton

Abel See­taram

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