Nine months after arrests of Jagdeo, ministers no charges yet in Pradoville 2 land probe

Bharrat Jagdeo

Nine months after two dozen persons, including former President Bharrat Jagdeo and some of his former ministers were hauled down to the Camp Road Headquarters of the Spe-cial Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) and questioned as part of the `Pradoville Two’ probe, not a single charge has been laid.

SOCU investigators are in the process of completing the additional work that police legal advisor Justice (retired) Claudette Singh has asked them to do. It is expected that this will be the final stage before any decision is made on charging anyone.

The Sunday Stabroek was informed by several sources that the investigators are awaiting the completion of the independent evaluation of the lands allocated to Jagdeo, members of the former cabinet and persons considered to be closely aligned to the former PPP/C government.

Irfaan Ali

A special investigation of the housing development, which was part of a larger probe of the financial operations of the Cen-tral Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA), was conducted by accounting firm Ram & McRae. A report was later submitted to government.

The investigation revealed that the allocation of the land at Sparendaam, was a clandestine arrangement that was handled personally by former PPP/C Housing Minister Irfaan Ali and it was concluded that a criminal case for misfeasance could be made against the PPP/C Cabinet members who benefited. It was based on this finding that the matter was handed over to SOCU for a criminal probe to be done.

The advice for the additional work was given about two weeks ago. It is unclear why it is taking so long to be completed. An evaluator visited the housing project one month ago, in what was expected to be the start of an assessment of the value of the properties.

One source explained that the independent evaluation will be completed shortly. The file with this information and the additional work requested will be sent back to the police’s legal advisor in the coming days and she will make whatever recommendations she sees fit.

The final report stated that of the 28 lots, totalling 12.1187 acres, only 3.9693 acres remain unallocated. It was explained that lots were allocated to six Cabinet members—former president Bharrat Jagdeo, cabinet secretary Dr Roger Luncheon and ministers Priya Manickchand, Dr Jennifer Westford, Robert Persaud and Clement Rohee—along with other persons with connections to the government, including Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack and former army head Gary Best.

The probe found that the awardees grossly underpaid for the lots by a total of nearly $250 million, while the state-owned National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited, National Com-munications Network, and Guyana Power and Light Inc were never reimbursed for millions spent to execute preparatory works.

“Our examination leads to the conclusion that the project was done outside of the established procedures and that Minister (Ali) piloted every aspect of the transaction without recourse to the Authority. While the minister has considerable powers under the Housing Act, his role in the issue of titles was well outside of his functions and powers,” the final report said.

The report added that the awardees made payments to the CH&PA but these were significantly lower than the market value. “No files were maintained by CHPA for any of the plots allocated by a process that can be described as lacking transparency at best,” it further said.

On March 10, Jagdeo, Luncheon, former Minister Robert Persaud, Lisaveta Ramotar, who is the General Manager of the Guyana Gold Board and daughter of former president Donald Ramotar, Ramesh Dookhoo, former Chairman of the Private Sector Commission, and Dr Ghansham Singh who were also beneficiaries of house lots in the scheme, were all arrested and questioned before being released without charge. Marcia Nadir-Sharma, former Deputy Director of state holding company, NICIL was also questioned on that day.

The following day seven others—former prime minister Samuel Hinds, former housing minister Irfaan Ali, former home minister Clement Rohee, former education minister Priya Manickchand, former Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Water Incor-porated Shaik Baksh, former labour minister Nanda Gopaul and former public service minister Dr Jennifer Westford—were questioned by SOCU. On Thursday, former presidential press officer Kwame McCoy and former head of the Office for Climate Change Andrew Bishop were questioned, while on Friday Director of Public Prosecutions Shalimar Ali-Hack and her husband, Moeen ul-Hack, as well as former Chief of  Staff of the Guyana Defence Force Gary Best were questioned.

President David Granger had publicly said that Jagdeo’s arrest was unjustified.

On the `Public Interest’ programme aired days after the high profile arrests and questioning, Granger expressed regret “personally to Mr. Jagdeo. I did not feel that his personal arrest was justified in the circumstances but I did not overrule the right of the police force to conduct an investigation or to invite people of any rank to go to SOCU Headquarters. It is not possible for SOCU to visit every single former minister.”

Granger denied the opposition’s claim that Jagdeo’s arrest was part of a political witch-hunt, while making it clear that the detention wasn’t ordered by any political official.

Patience

Meanwhile, persons close to the case called on the public to be patient as investigators have a duty to present solid cases. One source pointed out that it would be incorrect to say that the attention that the arrests and questioning drew was an indication that there was enough to lay charges.

“You have got to remember that this is a high-profile investigation. The media would have turned up when word got out that one of those persons were being questioned. It’s not like the unit wanted to embarrass anybody or that they were looking to make the news. Arresting people who may not want to cooperate or inviting them in for questioning is all part of the process”, the source said while adding that while many may be looking at how much time has passed from the time of the questioning to the investigation being completed, it must be recognized that this is an investigation which has many elements.

“The focus here is on making a solid case. We are not just going to go and charge people, just to appease people and then in a few years’ time we look stupid. The focus is and has always been on gathering evidence”, the source said adding that once that is done, it’s up to the legal advisors to decide what happens next.

Persaud, the then Minister of Agriculture had hinted that he would be ready to settle the price difference with the state, if it proven that the land was sold to him at an undervalued price.

He had bought the 0.3030 acre of land located at Sparendaam, East Coast of Demerara in 2007 for $1.5M. Five years later, he sold the property, which was uncompleted at the time, for $90M.

“My legal advisor has indicated that should the state prove that the price paid for the plot of land was below market value, discussions can be entered into for a mutually acceptable resolution of the matter,” Persaud had said in a Facebook post two days after he was arrested and questioned.

None of the others questioned has made such a proposal.

Granger in response to this has said that the option of a settlement for subjects of the ‘investigation is one for the police and not government. “I have not intervened. My government is not giving instructions to the police force,” he had said on the televised programme.