Even as it may now face more court action, the New Building Society (NBS) yesterday strongly defended the action taken by its staff on Tuesday in securing the building when an attempt was made to levy on its assets in relation to a $59m court award to its former CEO Maurice Arjoon.
In a statement, the NBS also vowed to “safeguard” the sum in question, noting that an appeal had been lodged with the court over the matter.
After having to be forced by levy proceedings, into paying its former manager the more than $59M owed in pension on Tuesday, the NBS is now likely to face a number of lawsuits for false imprisonment for locking persons in its bank on Tuesday, in an attempt to thwart the persons who had arrived to execute the levy.
Contempt charges are also possible for the manager(s) who gave the instruction to close the doors, thus hindering the court’s marshal in the execution of the levy, ordered by the court.
The bank in its statement has, however, rebuffed claims of ever holding anyone against their will, stating that no order was produced to effect the levy. NBS’ claim is that its facility was stormed by unidentified individuals and employees thought a robbery was about to occur.
Owing to NBS’ refusal to comply with court judgments awarded to Arjoon for pension, after being wrongfully dismissed by the bank, the man’s attorneys on Tuesday descended on the financial institution to execute the levy to recoup the sums to which he is entitled.
By the end of the six-hour standoff, the bank wrote Arjoon a cheque for $59,033,281 worth of pension it owes. Attorney Sanjeev Datadin, who is heading his legal team yesterday confirmed to Stabroek News that the cheque had been deposited as per normal but will take a day to clear.
A marshal and policeman who had turned up to execute the levy succeeded only in removing one vehicle from the compound, before being hindered by the bank which immediately shut its doors and gate.
As a result, customers transacting business at the time were locked in, and denied exit, while customers wanting to get in, were denied entry.
Among the persons in the bank at the time, were the police and marshal who turned up to execute the levy, along with one of Arjoon’s three attorneys.
Managers of the mortgage institution, whom it is believed had given the order to lock the doors, were taken into custody on Tuesday night and questioned.
Deputy ‘A’ Division Commander Wendell Blanhum, told Stabroek News that it is still premature to talk about charges, but noted that the managers have all been released on bail.
He said that the bank’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as well as its Deputy were told of the allegations, and cooperated with police by providing statements as investigations continue.
Asked whether investigators had spoken to most of the persons who found themselves locked inside the bank, Blanhum said the police had only been able to contact two attorneys, the marshal, three porters and the policeman who accompanied the marshal to execute the levy.
The Deputy Commander has said, however, that the police will be making efforts to contact the customers who were locked inside the bank.
Attorney Sonia Parag, who is representing the bank against any criminal charges, confirmed to the newspaper that none of the managers was charged, and they had all been placed on self bail.
She, however, told Stabroek News that one of the three detained guards, has been charged with common assault, while the others are on self bail.
Following instructions from management, it was the security guards who locked the doors.
Meanwhile, Datadin, has said that the police could, and should institute charges against the errant managers who clearly obstructed the levy proceedings, holding many against their will in the process.
Datadin explained to this newspaper yesterday morning, that the specific crime of interfering with a marshal in the course of levy proceedings, had been committed when the bank shut its premises.
Emphasizing that legally no one is permitted to interfere with levy proceedings, the attorney said management can be held in contempt of the court order, which is punishable by fine and imprisonment.
He noted that they can be sued in their individual capacity, and expressed the view that, “it is likely that every single Director is responsible for contempt of the court order to execute the levy.”
“Locking the doors was a display of childish stupidity,” Datadin declared, adding that the move by the institution was “highhanded and unlawful.”
Regarding criminal complaints of false imprisonment, the lawyer confirmed that at least two customers who were held in the bank, had contacted him seeking representation in filing charges against the bank.
Datadin said that he has, however, directed them to other lawyers, as he does not want anyone to accuse his client of any vendetta against the bank.
Sometime during the drama which unfolded on Tuesday, the bank, in an apparent bid to avoid further embarrassment, quietly allowed customers through the back gate of its Avenue of the Republic headquarters.
Though attorney for the bank Pauline Chase had argued that the levy proceedings “ought not” to have been brought, since there is a pending appeal of the judgment awarded to Arjoon, Datadin was resolute in his position that the appeal in no way hindered the execution of the levy.
A member of the media, News Source photographer/reporter Joseph Allen, who was among the persons locked in the bank had, however, said persons, including customers had initially been denied exit.
According to him, persons complained of having to return to work and some of wanting to use the washroom. He recalled bank officials at first saying that they would get the key to unlock the doors, but this was a farce.
He said that one of the porters who accompanied the marshal to execute the levy, was forced to urinate in a garbage bin, as his request to use the washroom was ignored.
Allen said that it was only after the frustrating cries got louder of persons being hungry and feeling dizzy, that management finally opened the back gate and allowed customers out.
Arjoon’s daughter, Gina Arjoon-Hira who also complained of being locked in the bank against her will, had told reporters of also wanting to go to the washroom and being denied.
Some three hours after the initial closure of the doors, the doors were finally open, and Blanhum and his officers who were also denied entry upon arrival, were allowed into the bank, along with both the bank’s lawyers and the remainder of Arjoon’s legal team.
Wanting to clarify what it said were “issues surrounding the storming” of its office by “unknown individuals,” the bank in its statement yesterday said that at about 12.30 on Tuesday afternoon, a group of men gained access through the back entrance and opened the door of a Nissan vehicle, owned by the Society and driven by an employee.
According to the statement, the men ordered the employee out of the vehicle and forcibly took the keys and took possession of the said vehicle.
The bank is claiming that at the same time, persons were seen coming out of a vehicle with building-breaking equipment outside of the Society’s perimeter, which caused some panic among employees who thought that a robbery was about to occur.
It said that several cashiers moved away from their posts and the management quickly took a decision to lock down the entity.
Allen, who had arrived at the bank to cover the execution of the levy, however, said that the porters with whom the marshal and police turned up, had no equipment to force anything open.
He said he was also present in the bank when the police, marshal and Arjoon’s lawyers went up to the counter and explained their reason for being there.
For the more than five hours spent at the scene by this newspaper, no such building-breaking equipment was seen being carried by anyone—neither those standing around the bank, nor those exiting after the doors were open.
According to NBS, is was only after the arrival of the police, that management was informed that the persons who took possession of the vehicle and were in and around the head office, were marshals of the Supreme Court.
The police had been denied entry to the facility for more than hour after they arrived.
Offering a justification for the closure of its doors, the bank in its statement said that such a decision was taken because of the commotion and absence of a court order, cash had to be safeguarded, as customers were given an opportunity to leave in an orderly manner through one entrance.
The bank is saying that it never prevented persons from leaving, but that “in an effort to ensure the safety of cash, there was some inconvenience.” Its statement does not, however, say what that inconvenience was.
According the Society, the marshals and others “came in unidentified like ‘thieves in the night’ in an unprofessional manner that resulted in the panic, chaos and misunderstanding which took place.”
When Stabroek News arrived, however, all the marshals and police officers were clad in uniforms.
The banking institution said that if properly served with any instrument or order of the court, it would readily comply.
The bank said that after its lawyers arrived at the scene, and in the absence of a court order, it nevertheless took the decision to make the payment to Arjoon from funds, as it awaits a refund from the Trust Company (Custodial Trustees) of the Pension Scheme.
According to the statement, “given the manner in which the operation was conducted and the absence, even up to this point in time, of the court order, it is our view that the management took the right decision to protect the interest of the Society, its staff and customers.”
The bank has said that the “unprofessional conduct” of the marshals will be communicated to their superiors for an inquiry to be held.
Additionally, it is complaining that the large presence of police officers, some of whom were armed with high powered rifles, makes it appear that they may have been apparently under the instructions of someone or persons bent on embarrassing the Society
It said too, that the further delay and detention of its security and managers after the impasse, “must be viewed with concern as the Security of the premises was left exposed.”
It is contending that the sum awarded to Arjoon, should have been paid from the Pension Scheme funds, held by the Trust Company (Guyana) Limited assuming it was the final award.
The bank said from its release, that the sum was paid over “to avoid a confrontation” and that it “will be taking steps to safeguard that sum,” noting that it will pursue the matter until a final resolution.
The bank had previously said that once it lost its Court of Appeal action it had filed against Arjoon, it would honour the court’s judgment. However, it has appealed the decision to that court’s Full Bench.
According to the Society, it remained quiet while the court was hearing the matter and giving due respect to the sub judice rule, notwithstanding the many speculative reports and accusations not borne out by the facts surrounding the dismissals of Arjoon and others.
It advanced that while “political motives were mentioned ad nauseam as the reasons for their dismissals. The dismissals of the three senior officers had nothing to do with the Berbice Bridge or the intervention of any Government officials at that time.”
It said in its statement, that its Board of Directors at that time, unanimously agreed to the dismissal of the three officers for serious infractions, including gross misconduct and negligent performance of their duties.
It argues that the payment of $69M by these officials in an unauthorised manner and under highly suspicious circumstances caused the Society to suffer a loss by re-imbursing the account holder via a court order in the sum of $71M.
It said that its investment in the Berbice Bridge is a very lucrative one and has been proven to be a correct decision.
According to the bank, “the claim therefore by Mr. Arjoon and others must be seen as a mere smokescreen to garner public sympathy and to cover up their failure to follow standard operating procedures in the performance of their duties.”
On December 20th last, Justice of Appeal Rishi Persaud ordered that Arjoon be paid pension to the tune of $59,033,000.
This sum was a part of the more than $79 million earlier awarded to Arjoon by High Court judge Brassington Reynolds, who ruled that he was “wrongfully dismissed” and entitled to be compensated accordingly for severance benefits, pension and loss of earnings.
Following the court’s computation from estimates submitted by attorneys on both sides, Justice Reynolds in July of last year awarded a total of $79,282,801 to Arjoon.
Justice Persaud, however, stayed the remaining $20,249,801 that was awarded to the sacked manager for severance.
In its appeal of Justice Reynolds’ ruling, the NBS had said that it would honour whatever final judgment was awarded to Arjoon.
The mortgage institution, however, did an about-face on that undertaking when it filed its newest challenge to the Full Bench of the Court of Appeal, arguing, among other things, that the $59,033,000 awarded by Justice Persaud was not due now to Arjoon for pension, even on the premise that he is entitled to it for his service to the bank.
According to the financial institution, the High Court judgment does not include this figure.
It argues that in the absence of Justice Reynolds’ July, 2017 judgment, which is yet to be made available, the basis for and accuracy of the pension figure is not available for its examination and critique.
The bank holds further that Arjoon is fully responsible for the termination of his services and partly for the more than $70 million it has lost, including legal expenses for a counterclaim it made.
In his judgment, Justice Reynolds had said that the court found no evidence to substantiate NBS’s claims that Arjoon committed gross or serious misconduct, warranting his dismissal. The judge had said that it showed no established rules, standards or procedures which Arjoon was guilty of breaching.
On June 12th, 2007, Arjoon and two other managers, Kent Vincent, Operations Manager, and Kissoon Baldeo, Assistant Mortgage Manager, had their services terminated after $69 million was discovered missing from the account of Bibi Khan.
Arjoon was interdicted from duty before being dismissed. The trio, along with several other employees of the bank, were charged in the matter but they were later freed after Khan repeatedly failed to attend court hearings.
After the charge against him was thrown out, Arjoon subsequently filed the lawsuit against the Society, for wrongful dismissal.
Late Ombudsman Justice Winston Moore had concluded that the three managers suffered a “grave injustice” as he found that there was insufficient evidence to suggest that the trio was guilty, let alone to successfully prosecute them.