DPP discontinues Piarco case against Basdeo Panday, Oma, Ish Galbaransingh, Carlos John

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Basdeo Panday and his wife Oma arrive for the opening of Parliament on September 23, 2015. A decades-old corruption case against the Pandays has been discontinued. – File Photo/Roger Jacob

THE Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Roger Gaspard, SC, has withdrawn the decades-old corruption case against former prime minister Basdeo Panday, his wife Oma, former minister Carlos John and businessman Ishwar Galbaransingh.

The latest development took place on Monday, when the matter was expected to go to trial before magistrate Adia Mohammed.

Gaspard explained his reason for discontinuing the decades-old case.

He told the court the Piarco inquiry involving the four was one of “some antiquity.”

“I have looked at these proceedings and I am of the view that having regard to the fact that several of our key witnesses have now become unavailable, and bearing in mind, my lady, my guiding yardsticks, those being whether or not in the circumstances, to prosecute this matter, or in the prosecution of this matter there will be a fair prospect of conviction, and whether to prosecute this matter, if, on the evidence, there is a fair prospect of conviction such that prosecution will be in the public interest, I have decided to go no further with this matter.”

Last September, Mohammed dismissed an application by the four for their discharge after the State asked for an adjournment to determine the way forward when the magistrate said she had received authorisation to start the case afresh.

Mohammed took over the matter in 2019.

The Pandays were charged with corruptly receiving money. John and Galbaransingh were charged with corruptly giving £25,000 to the couple.

John and Galbaransingh were accused of giving Panday the money as an inducement or reward in relation to the Piarco airport expansion project.

The Pandays and the others were charged in 2005.

A preliminary inquiry began before former senior magistrate Ejenny Espinet on May 31, 2006, buton February 12, 2008, the defendants asked her to recuse herself after they said they had been informed that Espinet was a trustee and treasurer of the Morris Marshall Development Foundation and thus, would be biased against them because of her alleged close connections with the People’s National Movement (PNM). The late Marshall had been a PNM MP.

Legal challenges on the basis of apparent bias were dismissed and the case continued before Espinet until she retired in 2018, leaving it part-heard.

In their application resisting its restart, John and Galbaransingh argued the prosecution had four years – after an appeal in the matter was discontinued – to consider its options; that it was grossly unfair and egregiously wrong to have the decades-old matter remain before the court; and the cost to the justice system of having it continued.

They argued the continuation of the prosecution after 17 years would amount to oppression and the proceedings ought to stop as an abuse of the process of the court, having regard to the inexcusable and inordinate delay by the State.

It was further argued that nothing prevented the chief magistrate from ordering the matter should be restarted soon after Espinet retired in January 2018.

They also argued their constitutional rights to a fair trial would be prejudiced.

In giving a lengthy ruling, Mohammed said the delay they complained of did not result in any prejudice to them, nor was their continued prosecution “unconscionable, oppressive or misuse of the process of the court.

“…I do not find that this case falls into the category of exceptional and rare circumstances where the court ought to exercise its discretion to impose a stay of the proceedings on the basis of delay.”

She further noted, “This case concerns charges of both applicants under the Prevention of Corruption Act in May 2005 involving state funds.

“There is therefore a significant public interest in persons charged being brought to trial.”

She also mentioned that Panday was the prime minister and Oma his wife on the date of the alleged offence, so “public interest considerations are therefore significant in my determination of the application before this court in dealing with this matter justly.”

The charges against the former prime minister were linked to wider charges against several businessmen and businesses. In all, there are four related inquiries, none of which has gone to trial.

On June 29, Gaspard said it was his position that “taking Piarco One to trial would have been oppressive if not legally nettlesome while the other matters related to the airport project were in train, bearing in mind that there were common accused in both sets of matters.”

Instead, he said, “A joint trial of the allegations in Piarco One and those arising from those other matters was desirable.”

Two days earlier, the Privy Council held that a complaint by the accused charged in Piarco One, of apparent bias against then chief magistrate Sherman McNicolls, was sufficient to strike down their committal to stand trial. Gaspard said he now has to consider the future of that case.

Gaspard also said he felt constrained to advise citizens that “the ruling by the Judicial Committee does not pertain to other matters which fall outside of those that comprise Piarco One.”

More on this story as it comes to hand.