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Trinidad airport inquiry to start over 15 years later

By Trinidad Guardian

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Flashback October 2012: Steve Ferguson and Ishwar Galbarsingh leave the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court on St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain.

(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) —  The pro­tract­ed “Pi­ar­co Two” pre­lim­i­nary in­quiry in­to fraud charges aris­ing out of the con­struc­tion of the $1.6 bil­lion Pi­ar­co In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port has to be restart­ed.

The de­ci­sion to restart the in­quiry, which is quite pos­si­bly the longest-run­ning and largest fraud case in the coun­try’s his­to­ry, was based on the re­tire­ment of for­mer Se­nior Mag­is­trate Ejen­ny Es­pinet, who left the Ju­di­cia­ry last year with the in­quiry at an ad­vanced stage, but still in­com­plete.

Last year, the Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions (DPP) at­tempt­ed to utilise Sec­tion 23(8) of the In­dictable Of­fences (Pre­lim­i­nary En­quiry) Act 2005 to have the in­dict­ments for the charges filed in the High Court, with­out the in­quiry, over whether there is suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to war­rant the charges, be­ing com­plet­ed.

The leg­is­la­tion em­pow­ers the DPP’s Of­fice to take such ac­tion in cir­cum­stances where mag­is­trates have heard ev­i­dence which dis­clos­es a pri­ma fa­cie case but fail to com­plete the pre­lim­i­nary in­quiry due to phys­i­cal or men­tal in­fir­mi­ty, res­ig­na­tion, re­tire­ment or death.

The move was chal­lenged by some of the per­sons and com­pa­nies be­fore the in­quiry- busi­ness­men Steve Fer­gu­son and Ish­war Gal­barans­ingh, for­mer Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bri­an Kuei Tung and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials Pe­ter Cateau and Ty­rone Gopee.

De­liv­er­ing a 45-page judge­ment at the Hall of Jus­tice in Port-of-Spain, yes­ter­day morn­ing, High Court Judge Devin­dra Ram­per­sad up­held the group’s chal­lenge.

Ram­per­sad ruled that the leg­is­la­tion con­tained a pro­vi­sion that stat­ed that it on­ly had ef­fect af­ter Sep­tem­ber 2005.

Al­though the DPP’s Of­fice claimed that the case start­ed well af­ter the dead­line as Es­pinet was forced to deal with a myr­i­ad of pre­lim­i­nary le­gal is­sues be­fore its first wit­ness even­tu­al­ly gave ev­i­dence in 2008, Ram­per­sad ruled that the case be­gan as the men were first charged and hauled be­fore the court in May 2004.

“Any oth­er in­ter­pre­ta­tion would be to ren­der the ad­min­is­tra­tive or case man­age­ment steps as ex­ist­ing in lim­bo with­out any statu­to­ry un­der­pin­ning as to pow­ers and ju­ris­dic­tion. There is noth­ing un­du­ly com­plex with re­spect to this find­ing,” Ram­per­sad said.

Ram­per­sad al­so stat­ed that he did not have to analyse Hansard records to de­ter­mine whether Par­lia­ment in­tend­ed the leg­is­la­tion to have a ret­ro­spec­tive ef­fect.

“In any event, how­ev­er, if even the court is wrong on that, it is ob­vi­ous that the par­lia­men­tary de­bates sup­port­ed this very same con­clu­sion,” Ram­per­sad said.

As part of his rul­ing, Ram­per­sad grant­ed a de­c­la­ra­tion that the DPP’s Of­fice is ex­press­ly barred from us­ing the leg­is­la­tion and an­oth­er that the claimants can on­ly be law­ful­ly com­mit­ted to stand tri­al af­ter a fresh pre­lim­i­nary in­quiry be­fore a new mag­is­trate.

He al­so or­dered that the State pay the group’s le­gal costs for bring­ing the law­suit.

Con­tact­ed yes­ter­day evening, DPP Roger Gas­pard, SC, said his of­fice was yet to de­cide whether it would ap­peal Ram­per­sad’s judge­ment.

“Con­sid­er­ing my le­gal op­tions. Need to con­fer with my le­gal team,” Gas­pard said in a text mes­sage re­sponse.

If the judge­ment is not ap­pealed, the case will be ran­dom­ly re­as­signed and then restart­ed.

The oth­er per­sons, who did not file the le­gal chal­lenge but will be af­fect­ed by the out­come, are Am­rith Ma­haraj, Raul Gui­tier­rez, Ronald

Birk, Ed­uar­do Hill­man, Sadiq Baksh, Ameer Edoo, Re­nee Pierre and five com­pa­nies as­so­ci­at­ed with some of the men- Mar­itime Gen­er­al In­sur­ance Com­pa­ny, Mar­itime Life (Caribbean), Fi­deli­ty Fi­nance and Leas­ing Com­pa­ny, North­ern Con­struc­tion and Cal­maquip En­gi­neer­ing Cor­po­ra­tion. Ed­ward Bay­ley was al­so be­fore the in­quiry but passed away dur­ing it.

This is the sec­ond time in re­cent his­to­ry that such an is­sue with a mag­is­trate has oc­curred.

In 2017, it arose af­ter for­mer Chief Mag­is­trate Mar­cia Ay­ers-Cae­sar took up a ju­di­cial ap­point­ment with 53 pre­lim­i­nary in­quiries still pend­ing be­fore her.

The Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al filed a statu­to­ry in­ter­pre­ta­tion on what should hap­pen to the cas­es, which al­so re­sult­ed in all them hav­ing to be restart­ed.

While most of those cas­es were quick­ly restart­ed and com­plet­ed, it is un­like­ly that such is sit­u­a­tion would oc­cur with the Pi­ar­co in­quiry due to the com­plex na­ture of the charges and the length of time that has elapsed since the of­fences were al­leged­ly com­mit­ted.

Fer­gu­son, Gal­barans­ingh, Cateau, Kuei Tung and Gopee were rep­re­sent­ed by Fyard Ho­sein, SC, Ed­ward Fitzger­ald, QC, Sasha Bridge­mo­han, Aadam Ho­sein and An­nette Mam­chan. Elaine Green rep­re­sent­ed the DPP’s Of­fice.

This article was posted in its entirety as received by This media house does not correct any spelling or grammatical error within press releases and commentaries. The views expressed therein are not necessarily those of, its sponsors or advertisers.

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