The six former Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) members, including two opposition parliamentarians, who were charged with failing to record entries for funds amounting to over $250 million in the agency’s general ledger, were yesterday allowed to plead to the charges.
Former GRDB General Manager Jagnarine Singh, former Deputy Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture Prema Roopnarine, agricultural consultant Ricky Ramraj, business consultant Badrie Persaud, General Secretary of the Rice Producers Association and PPP/C MP Dharamkumar Seeraj and PPP/C MP Nigel Dharamlall all pleaded not guilty.
The six defendants were read varying charges during their first court appearance before Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan last month.
The first charge, which was read to Singh, Roopnarine, Dharamlall and Ramraj, stated that between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011, at Lot 116 to 117 Cowan Street, Kingston, being members of the GRDB, a body corporate, they omitted or concurred in omitting from the organization’s general ledger any entries particular to the sum of $52,000,000 in the Republic Bank account for its Agriculture Life Skills programme with intent to defraud.
Three other charges of a similar nature were then read to Roopnarine, Persaud, Seeraj, and Ramraj. The first of these three charges related to the sum of $9,724,082 and the period was between January 1, and December 31, 2013; the second related to the sum of $1,045,000 for the period between January 1, and December 31, 2015; and the third related to the sum of $130,000,000 and the period between January 1 and December 31, 2014.
All six accused were also read a joint charge relating to the sum of $77,333,199 for the period between January 1 and December 31, 2012.
During yesterday’s court session, Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) prosecutor, Michael Somersall made an application for the Administration of Justice Act to be applied and for the defendants to be allowed to plead to the charges.
As a result, the Chief Magistrate read the charges once more to the defendants and each pleaded not guilty.
Subsequently, attorney Glenn Hanoman, who represents Singh and Dharamlall, in association with Anil Nandlall, made an application on behalf of the other attorneys, requesting that the defendants’ passports be returned given the nature of the case and the fact that many of the defendants conduct business abroad.
There was no objection by the prosecution to this request and as a result the Chief Magistrate ordered that the defendant’s passports be returned.
Attorney Priya Manickchand, who represents Ramraj, then requested that the court order that the case be heard expeditiously as her client’s reputation is on the line.
In response, Chief Magistrate McLennan stated that the prosecutor should be given sufficient time to serve statements and exhibits, and that the court will allow him to do so.
Subsequently the matter was adjourned to July 11 when statements are to be served.