Charges against 2 former GRDB officials reinstated
It has been almost one month since the former General Manager (GM) of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), Jagnarine Singh; his former deputy, Madanlall Ramraj, and former GRDB accountant Peter Ramcharran were jointly slapped with 34 charges alleging fraud committed between the years 2011 and 2012; and the state has now moved to withdraw charges against the now overseas-based former accountant.
The atmosphere grew tense in the court of Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan on Thursday when the two accused appeared in court while State Prosecutor Patrice Henry and Defence Attorney Glen Hanoman transitioned into full battle mode before the magistrate stepped in to intervene.
The decision to withdraw charges against the third party came following concerns raised that the case was being stalled and unable to proceed in absence of Ramcharran, who resides in Canada and has not made appearance before the local courts of law, despite being served notice and notwithstanding collaborative efforts of the local police with the International Police Organization (INTERPOL).
Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan was unable to read the amended charges against the pair in absence of a fiat (binding edict issued by a person in command) from the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions. While the prosecutor claimed to have the fiat, he was unable to produce same to the court, claiming that he did not have same in his possession at the time, causing defence counsel to question whether it really existed. Nonetheless, the case was stood down to be heard in the afternoon session.
In the afternoon session, Prosecutor Henry readily produced a fiat dated November 16, 2017 (Thursday) and the information was sworn in by an investigating rank attached to the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), Sherronie James.
Hanoman’s attempts to establish that the prosecutor may have misled the court about having the fiat (since same was dated the same day) proved ineffective, as the investigating rank was unable to state the exact time of day it was received.
During a lengthy court sitting, the 34 charges against Ramraj and Jainarine were read by the Chief Magistrate, and the accused denied all the charges, alleging the keeping of fraudulent account and fraudulent appropriation of property between the years 2011 and 2012.
The first 17 charges allege that between 2011 and 2012, at Lot 16-17 Cowan Street, Kingstown, they omitted to enter, or to make full and true entries of over $4.2 million into the company’s ledger, contrary to standard operation procedures.
Subsequent allegations detail that the accused fraudulently took, or applied to their own use and benefit, other than for the use and purpose of GRDB, a total of $5.1 million.
On the issue of bail, the court indicated that same $1 million bail that the defendants were previously on would be transferred from the jacket holding the charges against the three defendants to the modified version (against the two), as the charges remain the same.
As the clock ticked on, defence counsel sought to make submissions for the charges to be struck out, alleging abuse of process. The charges alleging the keeping of fraudulent accounts are presently before Magistrate Leron Daly, the only difference being that one is general while the other is specific. According to the lawyer, the matter before Magistrate Daly alleges omission to make records for the fiscal year, while the present charges allege omission for every individual transaction during the fiscal year. In essence, the criminal conduct remains the same.
On the other hand, as regards the charges of fraudulent account-keeping, Hanoman advanced that the prosecution has to decide the particular offence for which the defendants are to be charged (whether it is for criminal omission or act) as the words in the relevant section constitute more than one offence. Further, the defence raised concerns of the present charges being filed whilst identical charges against the accused parties were still “live” before another court.
In closing, the lawyer bemoaned the fact that there was no fiat produced by the prosecution in relation to the charges which he purported to withdraw, only presenting one which granted him permission to proceed against the two defendants. In effect, he declared such to be ineffective, as it specifically granted permission to “appear for the prosecution at the hearing…at no cost to the state”, which produces an absurdity, since prosecutors are paid by the state.
The case will continue on January 10, 2018.