The ability of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) to take solid cases to court will now be the subject of scrutiny following the recent collapse of the New Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) trial.
Days before Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan ruled that the prosecution failed to prove its case against former General Manager of the GMC, Nizam Hassan and Felicia De Souza-Madramootoo, the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) berated SOCU about the quality of investigations it was doing.
It would now seem that the DPP had recognized that SOCU’s investigative capability is not where it ought to be.
“SOCU needs to focus on doing quality investigations before sending files to these Chambers for legal advice because charges are based on evidence and not wild recommendations,” the DPP’s Chambers said on October 17 in a letter sent to the Editor of Kaieteur News over a news item headlined `US$500M GBTI contempt charge…3 weeks later, DPP still to pronounce on charges against her lawyer’.
The DPP’s Chambers stated that the unit must obtain the relevant evidence in relation to the ingredients of the offences they are investigating.
“After they have obtained the quality evidence, only then should a credible investigator recommend a charge. Once all the evidence is there to support the offence/offences being investigated, charges are recommended,” it said.
Hassan and De Souza-Madramootoo, the wife of an engineer were jointly charged last November for allegedly procuring money by false pretence by continuously approving payments to the Trinidad-based Constantine Engineering and Construction Services, although the works at GMC’s headquarters were “incompetently and incorrectly” done.
The charge was laid after a SOCU probe of the findings in a forensic audit.
The audit, which was one of 18 commissioned under the APNU+AFC administration had recommended a police investigation into the substandard work done during the construction of the GMC headquarters by the Trinidad-based contracting company. It also recommended that its principals be charged and barred from executing projects for the new government.
It found that the company won the bid for a contract, worth almost $24 million, for the construction of a new building for GMC’s head office and the Guyana Shop. Later, on February 10, 2012, the contract was amended to include an additional $7,620,984, for which there was no tender.
Shortly after the contract was amended, the contractor announced to GMC that it would be unable to complete the project. As a result, the auditor said it was unclear how much funds were given to Constantine Engineering.
The report said that within months of the handover of the building, the roof was leaking and a contractor had to be brought in to effect repairs. It was also discovered that “old lumber and old zinc sheets with euroband were used to construct the roof of the building,” the report said. It noted that the Bill of Quantities of the contract for the construction of the office building stipulated that Greenheart lumber was to be used for the floors, walls and frame and PVC for the two ceilings of the building.
However, it was later observed that mixed hardwood, including “second quality lumber” were used for the walls and though much cheaper plywood was used for constructing the ceiling, the same $2,000 per square metre rate as that of PVC panels was charged.
It was stated that it was the ministry engineer who certified the payment vouchers for the plywood and the report noted that there was no amendment for this material to be used in the construction.
As a result, the auditor recommended that the police be called in “to investigate the fraud of using incorrect materials and fraudulent billing for the construction of the building.”
It was recommended that since it was the engineer who certified the payments, “he should be charged criminally and brought before the courts for his participation in conducting fraud against the Government of Guyana.”
Auditors had also said they could find no trace of the existence of the company, whose address was given as #55 Calcutta Road #2 Freeport, Carapichaima, Trinidad.
Initially, Hassan, De Souza-Madramootoo, her husband, the former ministry engineer Hanniel Madramootoo, his brother Philip Madramootoo, and his friend Nizam Ramkissoon, were all named as defendants in the matter. The latter two were said to be Directors of the Trinidad-based company.
With police unable to locate the others, the charge was amended to allow for the trial of Hassan and De Souza-Madramootoo to proceed.
Hanniel Madramootoo who was the Project Engineer within the Ministry of Agriculture, had been accused of conspiring to commit a misdemeanour of procuring money to be paid by false pretence with intent to defraud, together with the others between October 28, 2010 and April 25, 2012, by continuously approving payments which were made to Constantine Engineering and Construction Ser-vices Limited for works that were “incompetently and incorrectly” done with inferior materials to rehabilitate the GMC building, fully knowing that such works should not have been approved for payments.
In assessing the evidence by several of the 26 witnesses who testified, the Chief Magistrate stated on October 20 that the court discredited their testimonies since they seemed to have had self-serving interests based on their responses to questions asked under cross-examination.
She added that there was no evidence presented by the prosecutor to show that the building materials used were inferior. She noted too that there was no false pretence because the same procedure adopted by Ida Sealey Adams, who served as the acting General Manager during the period Hassan was out, was adopted by Hassan.
Subsequently, Chief Magistrate McLennan found that the prosecution failed to prove essential evidence of the charge and that its witnesses were discredited under cross-examination.
Upon these grounds, the court found that there was no prima facie case established and, therefore, there was no other choice but to uphold the no-case submissions made by the defence attorneys, who included Glenn Hanoman.
To date nothing has been said about what efforts are being made to find the others charged in relation to this matter.
Among those who testified at the trial were SOCU officers but it would appear that what they said had no bearing on the charges in the case.
Observers have pointed out that ranks are spending hours, days, weeks and in some cases months investigating these complex matters. Additionally, UK advisor Dr Sam Sittlington spent some time in Guyana last year and earlier this year working closely with SOCU ranks, providing advice and training.
Sittlington had said in January that with in excess of 300 investigations pending, SOCU was unable to effectively tackle them with its current staff complement. At the time of Sittlington’s comments, the unit only had four investigators. It was subsequently boosted but it would appear that with more than a dozen forensic audits comprising hundreds of smaller investigations and other matters, the unit’s investigative capability has been affected.
The unit also has legal support in the form of retired justice Claudette Singh and has within its employ a number of policemen with a wealth of investigative experience.
Questions have since been raised as to why the GMC matter was not prosecuted by one of the special prosecutors hired by government instead of the police. It was pointed out that because of the nature of the findings of the audits it would have been better if the special prosecutors had been defending the state in the courts.
In the Guyana Rice Development Board matter which also resulted from an investigation into the findings of a forensic audit, a special prosecutor has been appointed.