The Office of the President yesterday said that a shipment of goods sourced from businessman Ed Ahmad were bought by President Bharrat Jagdeo for his personal use and consigned to the President.
As a result, it said that the “waiver on the taxes due was based on an act of parliament enacted before president Jagdeo’s tenure and available to all the executive presidents of Guyana.”
The statement came following an editorial in the August 15 edition of Stabroek News which raised several questions on the shipment including whether all of the relevant taxes were paid in the transaction.
In a statement headlined `Stabroek News Deviousness’, OP noted that the August 20 edition of SN had carried a lengthy report on Ahmad’s legal troubles in the US and ended with a reference to the export of 29 containers to President Jagdeo and the question of the applicable taxes.
It noted that on August 15 SN had editorialized on the matter and had then referred to 29 tonnes of material. It added that 29 tonnes can easily fit in a 40-ft container.
“How the shift from 29 tons on August 15 to 29 containers on August 20 came about only Stabroek News and its sources know.” Stabroek News Editor-in-Chief Anand Persaud said in a comment today that the reference to 29 containers was clearly an error and the newspaper regrets it.
OP added “Additionally, revisiting the tax treatment of the imported goods is another devious act of Stabroek News. It is widely known and established that Mr. Ahmad is a businessman. The shipment was of goods bought by the president for his personal use and consigned to the president.
“Also already established was the fact that the waiver on the taxes due was based on an act of parliament enacted before president Jagdeo’s tenure and available to all the executive presidents of Guyana.”
The statement went on to say that while Stabroek News’ focus on Ahmad is media worthy, “its relentless efforts to maintain a connection in the media between the two flies in the face of President Jagdeo’s definitive statements about his 15 year friendship with Mr. Ahmad.”
OP noted that Jagdeo had said, “I know this gentleman a long time, about 15 years now, I know many other people, I knew Glen Lall and he used to say that he is my friend and I later found out that he is a backtracker, if Ed Ahmad breaks the law in New York then he must face the consequences, and I cannot deny knowing somebody, I know him very well… I know this gentleman, and I have considered him all these years as a friend but, if he does anything illegal it does not mean that I will condone this, no I will not condone it, and a lot of the people who try to deny these connections, they are the ones who have things to hide, I do not have anything to hide because I do not tolerate people breaking the law, even if they break the law, even if you are my friend, you face the consequences, but it doesn’t mean that I’m going to deny you.”
Persaud noted that this statement by the President had preceded revelations about the shipment of goods and there were therefore matters arising that the President needed to address.
The OP statement went on to say “Significantly, the Editor-in-Chief of Stabroek News (Anand Persaud) whose brother-in-law Mr. (Trevor Rupnarain), a Guyanese was implicated and charged with involvement in a similar matter has not been accorded similar treatment by Stabroek News.
“Such deviousness of the Stabroek News will continue to be exposed allowing its readers to be better informed about its commitment to professional ethics.” In response, Persaud said that SN had reported on the case involving Rupnarain and he said if there was any further information that OP wanted to supply to the newspaper on this case it should feel free to do so.
Persaud added that wherever in the world Presidents are engaged in private transactions with businessmen accused of wrongdoing those transactions naturally become of greater interest to the public. He noted that the disclosure of the shipment of goods came only after court hearings in New York with respect to Ahmad’s application to travel to Guyana.
The editorial of August 15 had said in part:
“There are now two separate issues. The first is the simplest. Was all of the material sent by Mr Ahmad intended for President Jagdeo and used by him? Were the relevant taxes and duties assigned to the shipment paid and was the relevant paperwork processed. Has there been any cost incurred to the State as a result of this transaction? Twenty-nine tonnes is not the ordinary family barrel. And in light of the recent building expo and the president’s desire for the advance of the sector was it really necessary for him to source all of this material from abroad instead of patronizing local businesses? Answers to some of these questions could very well be denied by the President on the grounds of invasion of privacy but we do believe that the balance in this case should be in favour of the public having full knowledge.
“The second issue is much more difficult. Could the President’s friendship with Mr Ahmad have influenced in any way decisions that were crucial to Mr Ahmad’s business here? After all, the President is the master of all he surveys here and public servants and government officials who know this may likely act in accordance with knowledge of his ties with Mr Ahmad.
“In the interest of transparency and rectitude the public should hear from the President about the building materials and also what measures might have been taken to insulate other decision-making processes such as the bidding for the Leonora lands from the halo of the friendship.”