Years of drawn out court proceedings came to an end yesterday for two former employees of the New Building Society (NBS) when two fraud charges against them were discharged even as five others face a third.
Former Director/Secretary Maurice Arjoon along with Amarita Prashad were freed of the allegations by Magistrate Fazil Azeez around 9:45am, on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
The other defendants Kissoon Baldeo, Kent Vincent, Ashley Legall, Imran Bacchus and Mohanram Shahebudin although freed of the same charges still have to return next month for the third preliminary inquiry which is yet to be begin.
The first discharged matter reads that on November 1, 2006 the seven defendants allegedly withdrew $15M from the account of Bibi Khan in the form of two cheques.
The second charge reads that on November 8 the defendants conspired with others to withdraw $32,230,384 from Khan’s account using two cheques.
According to the third charge, on November 17, Bacchus, Legall, Shahebudin, Baldeo and Vincent allegedly conspired to withdraw $22,664,000 from Khan’s account by using two cheques.
When the case was called at the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court all the defendants were present.
Magistrate Azeez’s decision was delayed twice because the Director of Public Prosecution failed to respond to a letter from the Prosecution asking for the third case to be withdrawn because of the absence of the main witness, the virtual complainant and the holder of the account that the money was allegedly withdrawn from.
Before revealing his decision, the magistrate said that there are three matters before the court involving the defendants. Evidence has been taken in two and the other is still pending.
He told the court that he had asked the special prosecutor, attorney at law Hukumchand and his junior Sonia Parag to consult with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and had held his decision back to see whether “they wished to withdraw the matter”.
At this point, Hukcumchand interjected and said that during a discussion with the DPP they were instructed to start the third PI.
Parag later told the court that she had spoken to the DPP about the letter and was instructed to proceed with the matter. According to Parag, the DPP said too that she was not going to respond to the letter a
sking for the third PI to be withdrawn.
The magistrate said that the DPP’s decision to proceed was a waste of the judicial process. “Why don’t the DPP
wake up and smell the coffee? I cannot understand why the DPP is keeping the matter. It is clear that the lady will not come to give that testimony for whatever reason; people may want to speculate”, he stated.
The magistrate said that the prosecution and DPP should have known that the virtual complainant was not coming to give evidence.
He said this stance by the DPP will open the door for the defendants to proceed to the High Court.
The magistrate noted that even if the woman had testified he didn’t believe he would have come to a different conclusion; which is to discharge.
“She has not com
e and that is the end of the matter…. For whatever reason they still want to hold on to it. I can’t scratch it up. I don’t have that power. Regrettably it has to be heard and I have to give a date”, he said.
Defence counsel Nigel Hughes while expressing gratitude for the ruling said that it is unfortunate that the third matter is not being withdrawn. Later his colleague, Abiola Wong-Inniss asked for an early date for the commencement of the case. She noted that due to the DPP’s position some of the defend
ants’ lives have to be once again put on hold.
“How long your worship?… the decision has to be made by the court”, Wong said.
In response to Wong’s submissions, the magistrate said that the prosecution was given instructions and as such he has to proceed.
“I am asking you to do what is just. It is unfair to the defendants!”, Wong stressed.
The magistrate noted before adjourning the commencement of the third PI to December 20 that he will have to write the same evidence all over again.
Minutes before exiting the court room, an upset Arjoon said that when the fraud was unearthed, he was nine months from retirement and would have been eligible for pension and other benefits.
“I have never been to court in my entire life”, he added.
The magistrate later advised him and the other defendants to proceed to the High Court.
In a prepared statement to this newspaper, Arjoon expressed relief that this “unjustifiable and traumatic” experience is over for him and the two other former managers. He pointed out that their families have suffered immensely too.
He said that he is outraged that they were made to face the ordeal although the Board of Directors of NBS and the police “are aware that we have not been involved in any fraud which was confirmed by several investigations. Worse, it was stretched out for three and a half years during which not a shred of evidence of any fraud has been provided”. It is alleged that by way of cheques, cash in various amounts were withdrawn on four separate occasions in November 2006 from Khan’s account.
In early 2009, the then presiding Magistrate Nyasha Williams-Hatmin discharged one of the matters on the basis that there was not sufficient evidence to proceed.