(Trinidad Express) The criminal retrial against former prime minister Basdeo Panday who is charged with failing to declare a London-based bank account to the Integrity Commission for three consecutive years is expected to be decided tomorrow.
Panday reappeared before Magistrate Marcia Murray in the Port of Spain First Court yesterday and both the defence and prosecution made its closing address in the matter.
During the hearing, lead defence attorney David Aaronberg QC focused his attention on the testimony of former Snr Supt Wellington Virgil, the officer who laid the charges.
In his address, Aaronberg said, Wellington had admitted under oath that during his investigations, he never found evidence of any expenditure being incurred on the account by Panday for the years 1997, 1998 and 1999. Panday is charged with failing to declare the account to the commission for those years while being prime minister. Aaronberg further stated, Virgil had testified that when he questioned Panday with regard to the account, Panday told him he was not the beneficial owner but instead, his wife Oma was.
But despite this utterance, Aaronberg said Virgil failed to interview Oma Panday.
“When questioned why he did not interview Mrs Panday, Mr Virgil said ‘as the investigator I did not see it necessary,’ he also said that he did not see it important to report to the Assistant Commissioner that Mr Panday did not carry out any transaction on the account,” Aaronberg said.
He said, it was based on Virgil’s investigations that the then Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Geoffrey Henderson, now a High Court judge, ordered that the charges be laid against Panday.
In response however, lead prosecutor Sir Timothy Cassell QC told the court in his address that this was not so. Cassell said the charges came based on the evidence of witnesses at the Integrity Commission and at the National Westminster Bank at Wimbledon Hill Road, London, England where the account was held.
Cassell said Panday deliberately tried to evade local authorities by writing a letter to the bank on April 12, 2002, requesting that his name be removed from the joint account between him and his wife.
“It was a last-ditch effort because he knew that the authorities were onto him. Even with regard to the timing, he wrote the letter at the same time when the DPP was in the process of giving directions to Mr Virgil (to lay the charges),” Cassell said.
He said, in the year 1997, there was a total of £11,814 in the account. The following year he said, the amount of money in the account had increased to £37,033 and in 1999 it had again increased to £110,752 (in excess of $1.1 million).
For those years, Cassell said Panday made an annual earning of TT$180,000 as prime minister.
“This increase obviously could not have come from Mr Panday’s pocket. It had to come from somewhere else,” Cassell said. Aaronberg responded, stating that Panday had been a practising attorney for several years, and that there was no evidence to indicate that the money did not come from his practice as a lawyer, nor could it be proven that the finances was not given to Oma Panday by other parties apart from Basdeo Panday.
Panday is charged contrary to Section 27 (1)(b) of the Integrity in Public Life Act.
In 2006, he was convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour by then Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls on each of the three charges.
The decision was appealed and Panday was granted bail after spending five days at the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca.
On April 9, 2008, the Privy Council ruled that Panday should face a retrial on the charges.