Acting Chief Magistrate Priya Sewnarine-Beharry yesterday discharged the accused in the remaining preliminary inquiry (PI) into the $69M New Building Society (NBS) fraud, after the prosecution admitted that it would be difficult to make a case without the testimony of the complainant.
“I don’t think that I can go anywhere with this,” special prosecutor Hukumchand told the court.
The virtual complainant, Bibi Khan, from whose account the money was allegedly withdrawn without notice, has failed to attend court hearings. She had appeared during the first PI, where she had given her evidence in chief. However, defence lawyers were unable to complete their cross examination of Khan, who is said to now be living in Canada. Four separate PIs were conducted and with yesterday’s decision all have been dismissed.
When the matter was called yesterday, the five defendants—former assistant Mortgage Manager Kissoon Baldeo, former Operations Manager Kent Vincent, Ashley Legall, Imran Bacchus and Mohanram Shahebudin—were all present and they greeted the ruling with smiles and visible relief.
Special prosecutor Hukumchand submitted to the court that he would be unable to proceed with the case, since the “crucial evidence” was lacking. He pointed out that the virtual complainant was critical to his case.
He also identified more than a dozen witnesses by name and noted the absence of the majority of them.
When the magistrate asked him if he could make out his case with the witnesses, Hukumchand responded in the negative, emphasising that the virtual complainant had to appear to establish that “she has an account and that she had given no one power of attorney.”
Afterward, the magistrate received submissions from defence counsel Basil Williams, who told the court that it will be a “judicial waste” to continue with the case. He reminded the court that Khan appeared four years ago and after giving some evidence never returned.
“I agree that the case will not advance.
It is clear that Hukumchand has no interest in this case and I ask the court to relieve itself of this matter,” Williams submitted.
After inquiring if the matter was still indictable, the Magistrate announced that the accused were discharged.
The case has been before the court for more than four years. It was last called in July but was adjourned since Magistrate Sewnarine Beharry was absent.
The five defendants along with former NBS Director/Secretary Maurice Arjoon and Amarita Prashad were charged after the case was brought before the court in October 2007. The offence was reportedly committed in 2006.
In early 2009, the then presiding Magistrate Nyasha Williams-Hatmin discharged the first PI on the basis that there was not sufficient evidence to proceed.
She was later transferred to another jurisdiction and the matter was handed over to Magistrate Fazil Azeez. Magistrate Azeez on November 25 last discharged two of the PIs due to the lack of evidence, resulting from the non-appearance of the virtual complaint. As a result of this development, Arjoon and Prashad were freed of all connections to the case.
However, the five still remained before the court as they were implicated in the fourth matter.
Magistrate Azeez later recused himself from the case, after describing an article on the two discharges as “inaccurate, distorted and a form of irresponsible journalism.”