DPP: Other Piarco cases still active

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard. File photo by Sureash Cholai

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, says the other Piarco cases are still “active.”

He made the comment on Monday, in response to questions from Newsday about whether he had made a decision on those cases, since the prosecution in the Piarco 3 inquiry was discontinued on the day it was expected to go to trial again.

On June 27 last year, Gaspard admitted that a Privy Council decision, two days earlier, had cast judgment on the committal of the defendants in the Piarco 1 matter because of the conduct of former chief magistrate Sherman Mc Nicholls, but said it did not dismiss any of the charges against them so the evidentiary foundation remained “unbesmirched and intact.”

He said it was not the end of the matter, as there were options: a new preliminary inquiry, or an indictment to be filed in the High Court, bypassing the inquiry stage. Gaspard said there were several public-interest and evidential considerations he had to look at before deciding on whether the proceedings should be reinstated.

However, he said his position was that taking the Piarco 1 matter to trial would have been “oppressive and legally nettlesome” with the other matters in train, especially as there were common defendants in those matters, so “a joint trial of the allegations in Piarco No 1 and those arising from those other matters, was desirable.”

Gaspard also reminded that the Privy Council ruling in Piarco 1 did not affect any of the other matters.

In November last year, attorneys for those in the Piarco cases urged the DPP to discontinue all four matters. In that letter, King’s Counsel Edward Fitzgerald put forward six main grounds why they felt Gaspard should do so. He spoke of political interference and the delay in bringing the matters to trial after almost two decades.

In February, after the magistrate in the Piarco 3 matter set trial dates, the Pandays’ attorney, Chase Pegus, also wrote to the DPP asking him to consider discontinuing and for a reason why he had, at the time, chosen to continue the case.

There have been countless legal challenges in all the cases which the Privy Council, in 2016, said “had aroused strong feelings in TT for some years.

“The Piarco cases are said by the DPP to be the largest complex fraud and corruption cases ever prosecuted in the Caribbean Commonwealth,’ the decision said. It also noted the committal proceedings were very long-drawn-out, partly because of the complexity of the facts and partly because they involved a great deal of oral and documentary evidence and frequent adjournments.”

In September 2012, a week after presidential assent to the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011, which included the controversial section 34 clause, the Piarco accused applied to invoke the law. That section introduced a ten-year statutory limitation period for some criminal prosecutions, but was short-lived as it was in force for only two weeks before Parliament repealed it.

The Piarco matters

There were four inquiries arising out of the corruption charges in the Piarco airport construction project.

In the Piarco 1 matter, the first group were charged in 2002, with offences alleging theft of $19 million during the construction of the Piarco Airport terminal between 1995 and 2000.

In 2019, Gaspard told Newsday he was still considering his options in the Piarco 2 matter.

The Piarco 2 prosecution had to be restarted as a result of a ruling of the High Court in 2022.

On Monday, the Piarco 3 prosecution collapsed.

Former prime minister Basdeo Panday, his wife Oma, former minister Carlos John and Galbaransingh were the subjects of the matter. Gaspard explained that his decision to withdraw the case was largely based on the prosecution’s low chances of securing convictions, especially since key witnesses were not available as some had died while others lived abroad.

The Pandays were charged with corruptly receiving money while John and Galbaransingh were charged with corruptly giving £25,000 to the couple. John and Galbaransingh were accused of giving Panday money as an inducement or reward in relation to the Piarco airport expansion project.

The Piarco 4 prosecution was completed in 2020. Piarco 4 involved businesswoman Renee Pierre. She was committed to stand trial in March 2020. Pierre was one of eight people, including former government ministers and party financiers for the United National Congress, charged back in 2004, in connection with the airport corruption case. In 2005, the original charges against Pierre were dropped and reinstated with new charges, which led to her case being separated from the Piarco 1 and 2 corruption inquiries.

Those in Piarco 1:

Former finance minister in both the PNM and UNC administration Brian Kuei Tung

Former PNM national security minister and attorney Russell Huggins

Former Nipdec chairman Edward Bayley

Maritime executives John Smith, Steve Ferguson and Barbara Gomes (Smith was murdered in July 2021 and Bayley died after a prolonged illness in 2006)

Ishwar Galbaransingh, chairman of Northern Construction Ltd

Amrith Maharaj, financial director of Northern Construction Ltd.

The Piarco 2 matter included:



Former government ministers Sadiq Baksh and Kuei Tung

Former Airport Authority chairman Tyrone Gopee

Galbarasingh’s former employee Amrith Maharaj; Galbarasingh Ferguson’s companies Northern Construction Ltd and Maritime General Insurance

President of Calmaquip Engineering Corporation Raul Gutierrez Jr, of Florida

The principals of Birk Hillman – consultants in the airport project – Eduardo Hillman-Waller and Ronald Birk, also of Florida.