T&T DPP gets leave to challenge Basdeo Panday’s freedom

(Trinidad Express) Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard has been granted leave to challenge the decision of a magistrate to acquit former prime minister Basdeo Panday of charges of failing to declare the assets of a London-based bank account to the Integrity Commission for three consecutive years.

Leave for judicial review against the decision of Magistrate Marcia Murray was granted yesterday by Justice James Aboud in the Port of Spain High Court.

Representing the DPP was attorney Ian Benjamin.

Aboud gave directions for the filing of submissions by October 4 and adjourned the matter to October 19.

Murray ruled on June 26 that the Integrity Commission had failed to comply with the provisions of the Integrity in Public Life Act. She said the Commission had failed to advise the President to appoint a tribunal to enquire into Panday’s declarations.

In her ruling, Murray said: “Mr Panday was not given the opportunity to which he was entitled, to be heard by a properly-constituted tribunal. The referral of Mr Panday’s declarations to the Director of Public Prosecutions was therefore ill-conceived and it matters not that the Director of Public Prosecutions found that there was sufficient evidence to lay the charges. In the court’s view, failing to accord Mr Panday due process under the Act amounts to misconduct on the part of the Integrity Commission.”

Panday was charged in September 2002 under the Integrity in Public Life Act of 1987 with failing to declare the assets of the account, amounting to approximately $1.6 million.

The account was held at National Westminster Bank at Wimbledon Hill Road, London, for the years ending 1997, 1998 and 1999 while he was prime minister.

Panday’s lead defence attorney, David Aaronberg QC, had argued on May 17 that the continuation of the case amounted to an abuse of process.

He said several factors stood in the way of Panday receiving a fair trial, including pre-trial publicity and political “mischief-making”.

Aaronberg contended that 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 lawyer told Murray that it was Panday’s wife Oma who was the beneficiary of the account and not Panday himself.

He argued that under the Integrity in Public Life Act of 1987, one was not required to declare the assets of their spouse.

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