(Trinidad Express) Attorneys representing former prime minister Basdeo Panday are seeking a stay of proceedings after a Port of Spain magistrate ruled that he had a case to answer on charges of failing to declare the assets of a London-based bank account to the Integrity Commission.
The attorneys, led by British Queen’s Counsel David Aaronberg, had made a no-case submission on Panday’s behalf before Magistrate Marcia Murray in the Third Court, stating the prosecution had led “absolutely no evidence” to prove that Panday was the beneficiary of the account.
When the matter came up for hearing yesterday, Murray shot down the no-case submission saying that, after listening to the evidence of the witnesses, she was of the view that the State was successful in establishing a prima facie case.
In his application for a stay of proceedings, Aaronberg argued on the grounds of abuse of process, stating that Panday was not receiving a fair trial based on a number of issues including pre-trial publicity and political “mischief-making”.
Aaronberg said prior to Panday being charged with the offences, confidential information of the then ongoing investigation into the account had been leaked to the media from within the Integrity Commission.
He said there were multiple articles in the daily newspapers outlining “very accurate” information.
“The information in the media only could have come from the Integrity Commission or someone in government. There was no investigation into the conduct of the Integrity Commission, and neither did the commission take sufficient steps to stop the leaks. One has to ask themselves why did these leaks occur,” Aaronberg said.
He said in the run-up to the 2001 general election which resulted in an 18-18 tie between the People’s National Movement (PNM), led by Patrick Manning and the United National Congress (UNC), led by Panday, Manning had made statements with regard to the account in order to cause Panday to lose political mileage.
“The background to this whole prosecution was mischief-making in the run-up to the 2001 general election,” Aaronberg said.
“On September 14 (2001), Manning made certain claims with regard to the account and Panday denied those claims but those claims were made (for Manning) to gain political milage,” said Aaronberg.
Aaronberg also questioned why Panday was the sole person to be charged under the Integrity in Public Life Act despite a number of other individuals also being referred by the commission to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Panday is facing three charges of failing to declare the joint account between him and his wife Oma, to the Commission for the years 1997, 1998 and 1999 while he was Prime Minister.
The account was being held at the National Westminster Bank at Wimbledon Hill Road, London, England.
During the trial, the defence team which also included Panday’s daughter Mickela and Anand Beharrylal, argued that Basdeo Panday was not the beneficiary of the account, but instead Oma Panday was.
They argued that under the Integrity in Public Life Act of 1987 under which Panday was charged, one was not required to declare the assets of their spouse. This was only required under the Integrity in Public Life Act 2000 they said.
The prosecution however, which was led by Sir Timothy Cassell and included Renuka Rambhajan and Anju Bhola, argued that Panday was fully aware he was required to declare the assets of the account but in a last-ditch effort, he wrote a letter to the bank in 2002, requesting that his name be removed from the account in order to evade local authorities.
The defence team will continue with its application for the stay of proceedings this morning.