Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack yesterday rejected a statement attributed to Attorney General Basil Williams that state prosecutors shun “highly political” cases.
In a release in response to a news item in yesterday’s Guyana Chronicle, Ali-Hack also labelled the comment as defamatory.
“The DPP, Mrs. Ali-Hack or any other lawyer in these Chambers have never indicated that they are uncomfortable in prosecuting any criminal matters, whether political or otherwise…,” the release from the DPP said without identifying Williams.
“To say that State Prosecutors shun highly political cases is defamatory,” the release added.
In yesterday’ edition of the Guyana Chronicle, Williams was quoted as saying that government had to turn to special prosecutors for the case against former Minister of the Public Service Jennifer Westford because persons from the DPP’s office were uncomfortable being prosecutors. He was providing the state’s justification for assembling a team of special prosecutors for charges that might arise from audit reports into the Pradoville 2 Housing Scheme and the 2007 World Cup cricket. The move to assemble the team has sparked public criticism that the government is interfering with prosecutorial matters.
“We were forced into that position because the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had indicated that the members of her department had some discomfort in having to prosecute the case of a former minister (Jennifer Westford) and as a result of that…if the state’s prosecution department is saying that they don’t wish to prosecute these types of matters that are political, what was the state supposed to do, fiddle with its hands?” Williams is reported to have said.
“So we decided as has been done by the previous governments in this country to select a team of lawyers who could do these prosecutions. It is nothing new,” he added.
The Chronicle news item stated too that Williams pointed to the case of former treason accused Mark Benschop, in which former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, and attorney Sanjeev Datadin were granted permission by the DPP to prosecute Benschop. “Neither man had under their belt any case …they were both inexperienced,” he said.
“Under the last regime the DPP used to give out fiats (for the prosecution of cases) ‘wild west.’ What is the noise they are making now …whenever this government attempts to do something in the interest of the Guyanese people… this case (Pradoville 2) is protecting the assets of the Guyanese people. It is puerile, just because they can do it… thank God this government affords them the opportunity to express themselves, everything they criticise us to say is wrong… everything we do is wrong. It is erroneous to contend that as a result the constitution is being breached,” he added.
Ali-Hack’s release said that all cases will be judged squarely on consideration of the evidence contained in the police files and the prevailing law.
She disputed Williams’s version of events as it pertained to prosecution of the Westford matter.
“Specifically, as it relates to the court matter involving former minister Jennifer Westford, the DPP herein informs that two lawyers from the DPP’s Chambers, Senior State Counsel Teshana Lake and State Counsel Natasha Backer are prosecuting this matter. Further, neither of these two state lawyers have expressed any discomfort in the execution of their duties in the said matter. The DPP, Mrs. Ali-Hack or any other lawyer in these Chambers have never indicated that they are uncomfortable in prosecuting any criminal matters, whether political or otherwise,” the release stated. “The staff at the DPP’s Chambers examine the evidence in police files in relation to the prevailing law and advise charges accordingly; prosecutions are based on the evidence in the file and the law. This is so regardless of whom the accused persons are and the positions they hold,” it added.
Ali-Hack pointed out that presently there are not sufficient lawyers to appear in the Magistrate’s Court. “Additionally, the present system is that lawyers at these Chambers appear in the High Court and all the Appellate Courts. There are not sufficient lawyers to appear in the Magistrates’ Courts; hence, four police prosecutors are assigned to these Chambers and appear in the more serious cases in the Magistrates’ Courts. To say that State Prosecutors shun highly political cases is defamatory,” the release said.
Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry yesterday announced that Minister within the Ministry of Finance Jaipaul Sharma handed over the final reports of the forensic audits of the Sparendaam Housing Project-(Special Investigation of the Central Housing and Planning Authority) and the Guyana Cricket World Cup/Guyana World Cup Inc. to the Commissioner of Police Seelall Persaud. The handing over was the fulfillment of a decision by Cabinet last week for the documents to be turned over for investigation.
Present at the handing over were Sharma, Persaud, Assistant Com-missioner of Police and Head of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) Sydney James and forensic auditors Christopher Ram and John Barnes.