Appeal Court sets aside fraud conviction of Deeds Registrar

Deeds Registrar Azeena Baksh

A fraud conviction for Deeds Registrar Azeena Baksh, who was accused of unlawfully paying herself gratuity and a higher salary than what was approved by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), was on Monday set aside by the Guyana Court of Appeal. In March 2020, Senior Magistrate Leron Daly found Baksh guilty of fraudulently procuring over $4.5 million between 2014 and 2017 while she was employed by the JSC.
Magistrate Daly ordered the Deeds Registrar to repay the full sum. At the time of her conviction, she was ordered to lodge $1 million and was given three months to repay the balance. Dissatisfied with the decision of the lower court, Baksh, through her lawyer Nigel Hughes, appealed to the Court of Appeal asking that the decision of the Magistrate “be wholly revered, set aside and/or discharged.”
Deliberating on the matter were Justices of Appeal Dawn Gregory and Rishi Persaud, and an additional Judge of the High Court, Franklin Holder.
“…the prosecution did not discharge the duty placed on it to establish beyond a reasonable doubt all the elements of the offence,” Justice Gregory noted as the Court allowed the appeal, setting aside Baksh’s conviction and sentence.

Former Attorney General Basil Williams, SC

While Baksh had no contract of employment for the Deeds and Commercial Registry, Justice Gregory held, “in our view, the absence of a contract had to be accompanied by proof of the terms of her employment in relation to her benefits, and specifically in relation to her gratuity. The absence of a signed contract was insufficient to support the inference that she had falsely represented her entitlement, and thereby fraudulently obtained benefits to which she was not entitled.”
The charge against Baksh had alleged that while being employed by the JSC between May 1, 2014, and January 31, 2017, in Georgetown, she caused or procured valuable securities of $4,534,486 to be delivered to her Bank of Nova Scotia account for her own use, pretending she was a contracted employee at the Deeds Registry. Charges were instituted against her in 2017.
Back then, the Legal Affairs Ministry had disclosed that the Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority had requested that an investigation be launched into financial irregularities in Baksh’s payroll documentation. Upon her appointment as the Deeds Registrar in 2012, Baksh received a salary of $326,171 monthly, as well as duty, entertainment, and housing allowances, and other benefits.
But the Legal Affairs Ministry claimed that she increased her salary to $400,000 in 2014 when the Deeds Registry was merged with the Commercial Registry, without the approval of the JSC.
It was further reported that Baksh – being the sole person with authority to sign off on such documents – approved gratuity to herself and several staff members from the period May 2014 to November 2016.
During an interview with <<<Guyana Times>>> earlier this year, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister
Anil Nandlall, SC, confirmed that Baksh was still the Registrar of Deeds since her appointment was never rescinded or revoked by the JSC. The tenure of the last JSC expired on September 12, 2017.
Nandlall had explained that if Baksh’s conviction is quashed or set aside by the Court of Appeal, then the Board of the Deeds and Commercial Registry will address the issue of her resumption. Moreover, the Attorney General has on numerous occasions roasted his predecessor Basil Williams, SC, for playing a major role in instituting the politically trumped-up charges against Baksh.
Nandlall had argued, “In my humble view, the decision to charge Baksh was a politically-driven one by my predecessor. Baksh was charged for simply receiving her salary from the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority, an Authority established by the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority Act, which authorised the transfer of all staff from the Deeds Registry and converted them into employees of the Authority, inclusive of the Registrar of Deeds.”
“In my respectful view, there is nothing wrong with a person being appointed by one agency and paid by another. If that person received two sets of remuneration, it would have been a different matter. That is not the case. The Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority Act authorises the payment of all staff of the Authority, inclusive of the Registrar of Deeds,” the Attorney General had noted. (G1)