Saying that the misconduct charges filed against former Finance Minister Ashni Singh and former head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) Winston Brassington cannot hold up in court, attorney Anil Nandlall has warned that lawsuits will be filed over the character damage that has been done.
“We will decide how we move forward but I have to inquire and advise myself as to whether there is a charge called ‘misconduct in public office contrary to common law.’ …You would note that they were not able to find a statutory provision under the criminal laws of this country, so they resorted to some nebulous concept, allegedly existing at common law, upon which they predicated these charges,” Nandlall said during an interview with the media on Thursday, shortly after the Singh and Brassington were charged in absentia.
Both Singh and Brassington reside abroad and as a result of their absence the charges were not read in court.
Singh and Brassington were jointly charged in absentia with three counts of misconduct in public office over the sale of three tracts of government land on the East Coast of Demerara, between December, 2008 and May, 2011. In one instance, it is alleged that the property was sold below market value, while in the other two the deals went ahead without proper valuations of the land.
The charges stem from criminal investigations conducted by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) into the findings of a forensic audit of NICIL.
Nandlall stated that he was contacted by telephone and told of the unit’s intention to charge Singh, who is his client.
He pointed out that during the investigation, no one attempted to make contact with Singh or himself though he had indicated that he was the attorney for the former minister.
“Significantly, it is rather strange that a criminal investigation of the type would be conducted and no attempt [was] made to seek an input from the person or persons who are the subject of the investigation,” he said, before adding that in conducting investigations, confrontations are held between an eyewitness and an accused person.
Nandlall, the former Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, also echoed arguments made by opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo, who has said that both men carried out the transactions in accordance with Cabinet decisions.
Nandlall stressed that the NICIL board does not act without government’s approval, while noting that over the years the entity has sold dozens of properties using a particular methodology.
Nandlall was adamant that the duo followed protocol in disposing of the land.
“The important thing is that criminal charges require some degree of dishonesty. Where is the dishonesty here? Ashni Singh nor Brassington [has not] benefitted from a single cent from these transactions. The monies were paid into the government coffers. So where is the wrongdoing?” he questioned, while noting that the point should be made that the laying of the charges is nothing more than another spate of witch-hunting where “the criminal justice system is being used as a political weapon by those in the government to persecute political opponents.”
He said the prosecution of the two men is designed to denigrate and damage beyond redemption the professional reputation of “two young outstanding Guyanese professionals who decided to serve their country and their people.”
He said Singh, who has two young children, is working in an international organisation and given the charges he is likely to be fired. “Who will look after his family?” he asked.
Nandlall also warned that the filing of lawsuits is imminent. “I hope that the state will understand that they will have to pay millions of dollars at some point in time in compensation because civil suits are going to be filed when these charges are dismissed because destruction has been done to people’s characters and reputations and people are suffering anguish and distress as a result of these charges and they are being instituted maliciously and none of them will succeed,” he said.
While emphasising that none of the charges will stick, he pointed out that a number of lawyers who have been hired as special prosecutors are being paid from millions set aside in the national budget.
“…Private prosecutors who are friends of the administration are being paid millions to prosecute these vindictive charges and none of them are succeeding. The whole thing stinks,” he declared.
It is alleged that Singh and Brassington sold a tract of land, being 4.7 acres at Plantation Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, which was the property of Guyana, for the sum of $150 million to Scady Business Corporation, while knowing that the property was valued at $340 million by Rodrigues Architects Limited.
It is also alleged that by way of agreement of sale and purchase, they acted recklessly when they sold a tract of land, which was a portion of Plantation Liliendaal, Pattensen and Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara, being 103.88 acres, to National Hardware Guyana Limited for $598,659,398 (VAT exclusive), without having a valuation of the property from a competent valuation officer.
It was also alleged that they acted recklessly when they sold a 10-acre tract of land at Plantation Turkeyen, which was the property of Guyana, for the sum of $185,037,000 to Multicinemas Guyana Inc, without procuring a valuation of the said property from a competent valuation officer.