Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan on Thursday morning ordered that the passports of the former officials of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) be returned to them, when they appeared for the second time at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court for their trial.
This order followed a request made by the team of defence lawyers bemoaning the stringent conditions of bail, alleging same to be an infringement on the constitutional rights of the charged individuals.
People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Members of Parliament Dharamkumar Seeraj and Nigel Dharamlall; former Deputy General Manager of the GRDB, Ricky Ramraj; former GRDB General Manager Jagnarine Singh; former GRDB Board member Badrie Persaud; and former Deputy Permanent Secretary (Finance) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Prema Roopnarine, were in May hauled before the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts to answer several charges of fraudulent omission, indictably laid in relation to the operations of the GRDB between the years 2011 and 2015.
The charges were laid one day after they had been summoned by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) for questioning.
The first three charges, which were initiated against all but Opposition MP Dharamlall, allege that all five of the others had, between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2015, omitted to enter into the GRDB ledger $130 million, $9.7 million and $147 million, respectively.
A subsequent charge detailed that all six defendants, while being then members of GRDB in 2012, had omitted to enter into the ledger some $77.3 million. And finally, Roopnarine, Dharamlall, Singh and Ramraj were jointly charged with fraudulently omitting to account for $52 million in 2011.
The defendants were not required to plead at the initial court sitting due to the indictable nature of the offences, but the granting of the Administration of Justice Act (AJA) on Thursday saw all six individuals entering not guilty pleas. The former members of the GRDB were represented by a team of attorneys comprising Priya Manickchand, Anil Nandlall, Sase Gunraj and Glenn Hanoman, who requested the magistrate to reconsider the conditions of bail (granted on the previous occasion) in light of the nature of the defendants’ line of work, which entails consultations for rice markets abroad. This condition, according to Hanoman, affects the very livelihood of his clients.
Nandlall, on the other hand, reminded the court that there is no basis to fear that the defendants (prior to being charged) conveyed any form of indisposition, as they voluntarily co-operated with officials during the investigation period. Moreover, he enunciated on his clients’ constitutional right to leave the jurisdiction — a right which should not be interfered with. The Chief Magistrate was then inclined to grant the request of the defence lawyers to return the travel documents after Prosecution Counsel indicated no objection to the request. Responding to Manickchand’s request to have a preemptory trial on the next date, owing to the prosecution’s lag in submitting statements, Magistrate McLennan declared that the court is of the opinion that the prosecution should be given sufficient time. Meanwhile, Nandlall enquired through the Magistrate whether the other directors of the GRDB Board are likely to be charged. “I cannot understand on what basis 6 directors are charged and others are not. They all ought to be equally culpable for the omission. They are all directors and therefore in equal position of authority and responsibility,” he argued. The Prosecutor was unable to say whether the other directors would be charged. This matter continues at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts on July 11, 2017, when statements are expected to be filed. Meanwhile, former GRDB accountant Peter Ramcharran was on Tuesday arrested in Canada.