Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Major Bruce Munroe, his wife Carol Ann Munroe and ex-soldier Leonard Wharton were yesterday cleared of treason, after acting Chief Magistrate Priya Sewnarine-Beharry ruled that the charge laid against them was bad in law as it lacked the relevant particulars.
The charge against the Munroes and Wharton accused them of plotting to level war within Guyana to force the president out of office, in order to compel the Government of Guyana to change its measures. The offence was allegedly committed between December 1, 2009 and December 16, 2010 at Soesdyke, East Bank Demerara, where the accused had all resided up until they were arrested.
After the Magistrate made her ruling at the conclusion of the Preliminary Inquiry (PI) into the charge, Carol Ann Munroe broke down into tears and immediately embraced her co-accused and the defence lawyer. Relatives and friends, who were also present, went to the court dock and hugged the three accused.
Yesterday was set for ruling on the case and a recent application made by special prosecutor Vic Puran, who was appointed in January, for the particulars of the charge to be amended to include reference to a covert act. The application was made some 15 months after the charge was instituted.
In handing down her decision before a packed court room, Magistrate Sewnarine-Beharry noted that there are provisions in the law for amendments to be made to a charge if sufficient reason is given. However, she noted that such a course is only allowed where the amendment does not alter the original charge, before going on to denying Puran’s application.
The magistrate also upheld the no-case submissions by defence counsel Nigel Hughes, who objected to the prosecution’s bid to have the original charge amended to include essential particulars. Moments after the proceedings ended, he explained that the charge was bad in law because it did not have the relevant particulars of the offence and the particulars set out “did not contain the key elements of what were the covert acts that the prosecution was relying on to support the charge of treason.”
According to Hughes, the magistrate upheld the defence’s submission that there was no charge known to law which was filed against the accused. He further said that she also found that the amendment proposed by Puran would render the charge different from what was stated in the file. “I think that it is a travesty to have any citizen locked up, particularly a female citizen, for a year and a half almost for an offence that is bad from the start. You lock people up for a non existent offence,” he added, while noting that Carol Ann Munroe was very emotional on hearing the ruling.
Commenting on the delays in the PI, the attorney noted that the magistrate said that “there were horrendous delays all at the influence of the prosecution,” while pointing out that on one occasion the delay was caused by the fact that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was going on vacation.
Hughes also said that since treason is tightly wrapped around politics, it might be best to have the offence struck from the laws. “My personal view is that treason is a political offence.
It should come off the statute books. It should have been off a long time ago,” he said, adding that the offence is not compatible with a lot of the fundamental rights that are enshrined in the constitution.
Meanwhile a relative of Carol Ann Munroe told this newspaper that she was “still emotionally traumatised.” She celebrated her birthday on Tuesday but was without her family, including her three daughters, aged 21, 10 and five years. The relative, who asked not to be named, was happy that the case was discharged. “I am relieved that it is over,” she said.
A relative of Wharton declined to comment.
The police prosecutor had stated at the first hearing that ranks, acting on information received, were made aware that the accused were plotting to overthrow the Government of Guyana.
It was stated that based on intelligence that was gathered and investigations conducted by the police, the accused were giving directives and instructions to certain persons to create mayhem in Guyana and unseat the government.
Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon yesterday morning expressed surprise at the decision to discharge the trio
“I am surprised,” Dr Luncheon said when asked about the matter while adding that the information on the ruling had not reached the Office of the President at that point.
“Certainly I want to believe that that matter would not end there but at this point I would say we are surprised, I am surprised.”
Asked if the ruling would be appealed, the Cabinet Secretary said the executive would have to examine what options exists in the face of the court ruling.
The AFC yesterday welcomed the decision. In a statement it said: “The Alliance For Change is happy and relieved that Major Bruce Munroe and his wife Carol are back where they belong, with their children and loved ones.
The Munroes and Leonard Wharton were freed this morning… The Alliance For Change had pressed for the Court to expedite the Preliminary Inquiry and was always of the position that the charges were trumped up. In January the Party in a statement had urged the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to review the evidence that was presented by that time and what was to come in the future to determine the likelihood of a successful conviction and “do the right thing in the interest of justice”.