Court grants GBTI more time to produce documents for SOCU probe

The Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI) has been given an additional two weeks by the High Court to produce key documents which the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) says are pertinent to its ongoing US$500M Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) probe.

The court has ordered the bank to find and produce by November 3, documents which it says cannot be found.

At an in-chambers hearing yesterday afternoon before acting Chief justice Roxane George SC, the GBTI sought relief from sanction of the court’s order to produce the documents in question.

Its application was denied but it was allowed an alternative request for extra time to locate documents which it said could not be found, but may be located after extended efforts are made.

Meanwhile, the court is yet to make a ruling regarding documents which the bank claims have been either lost or destroyed. The Chief Justice ordered the parties to return to court on November 10 after the legislative provisions would have been looked at.

Also not granted was an interim stay, which the bank was seeking, of all further proceedings against it, while it works on complying with the court’s production order.

This request by the bank came as a result of contempt charges instituted by the SOCU on Thursday against the bank’s directors, who the SOCU said had failed to make available documents requested for the probe.

Justice George did not grant a stay of the proceedings of the charges, which are set to come up Monday at Georgetown Magistrate’s Court.

It is, however, unlikely that the directors will be placed before the court, given the extension granted by the Chief Justice to effect further searches, since the contempt charges stemmed in the first place from the non-production of the documents.

This newspaper had been previously told that following a second review of the case file, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had advised charges against the bank’s Chairman Robin Stoby SC and directors John Tracey, Edward Beharry, Suresh Beharry, Kathryn Eytle-McLean, Basil Mahadeo, Carlton James and Richard Isava, for failing to comply with a production order.

The initial production order was made by the Chief Justice on August 29.

The bank subsequently said in a newspaper advertisement that in areas where the laws may conflict, the bank takes the position that “its primary duty is to protect the interests of its customers” and maintain the confidentiality associated with its fiduciary relationship with them.

According to the bank, it had made countless efforts to gather all the documents requested, but it was discovered that some were either destroyed, misfiled or could not be found. It insisted that it had complied to some extent with the requests of SOCU as thousands of documents have already been delivered.

Resultantly, the GBTI was seeking a variation of the production order of the Chief Justice to be relieved from having to produce documents on the grounds that they have “either been destroyed by the Applicant after the Applicants’ retention period had expired or they have been lost and cannot be found despite diligent efforts of the claimant to find them….”

As opposed to granting the varied order, the Chief Justice yesterday alternatively granted the bank the extra time it asked for to locate the documents.

Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran, who was present at yesterday’s hearing for the bank, said that some 9,000 documents were already handed over to SOCU.

Solicitor-General Kim Kyte-John and attorney Leslyn Noble appeared for SOCU.

Shaleeza Shaw, the bank’s acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO), in an affidavit in support of the bank’s application, had said that GRDB has been a customer since 1995 and this relationship has resulted in the processing of thousands of banking transactions each year.

She said that GRDB became a more active account when it began to handle payments to rice millers under the PetroCaribe rice for oil deal between the Government of Guyana and the Government of Venezuela, sometime around 2010, which spurred the growth of the rice sector.

Shaw said during 2017, it became apparent that GRDB and its officers were the subject of a possible criminal investigation by SOCU and as a result of this requests were made by the unit for information “thought to be available at the Bank concerning the transactions of the GRDB and its officers for several years past.”

According to the CEO, the first sets of requests were made pursuant to court orders dated 14th February, 2017; 20th June, 2017; 29th June, 2017 and 25th August, 2017. She said that these requests were promptly answered as best as possible on 11th July, 2017; 9th August, 2017; 16th August and 6th September, 2017. “However SOCU expressed their dissatisfaction with the manner and degree of the bank’s answers and subsequently obtained a Production Order …directing production of the category of documents listed in the said order on or before 6th September, 2017,” she added.

Shaw said in her affidavit that the bank sought to comply with the order made by Justice George and researched hundreds of thousands of documents in its archives for the periods in question, with a response that was given in batches on August 31, 2017; September 6, 2017; September 8, 2017; September 11, 2017; September 12, 2017 and September 13, 2017.

“However the response by the bank was deemed by the SOCU to be unacceptable for reasons inter alia of unacceptable format, method and orderliness of presentation, unacceptable method of certifying and non-production of some of the material thought to be required by the SOCU whether or not specified in the order,” she said,  while adding that the bank together with the directors were individually sent a threatening letter written by SOCU head Sydney James on September 18th, 2017, advising of the unit’s intention to seek contempt of court proceedings.

Following an intervention by Stoby, Shaw said James gave the bank seven days to resubmit the requested documents in a certified format and with an orderly presentation suitable to the needs of SOCU. “This indulgence from SOCU was promptly acted upon by the bank which was able to deliver the re-submitted documents in the required format that is to say, each page of a document stamped and signed as certified by Tuesday 26th September, 2017,” Shaw said.

According to Shaw, James has taken issue with the information supplied, particularly the notion by the bank in its letter of delivery of the destruction of some of the documents, which were past the bank’s retention period and which occurred prior to any inkling by the bank of criminal investigations being carried out into GRDB and its officers, and its inability to locate others.

Shaw stressed that the bank directed its staff to “devote its energy” to complying with the requests of SOCU even in the “devotion of their weekend time” so as to achieve the objectives sought by SOCU. “It is to be noted that as of the 25th of September, 2017, a total of 9,000 plus documents were certified and delivered to the SOCU under the said production order and in the bank’s estimation only about 150 documents were not delivered for reasons stated aforesaid,” she said.

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