Former People’s Progressive Party/Civic government officials Winston Brassington and Dr Ashni Singh will not be returning to Guyana if a High Court challenge being pursued rules that the misconduct in public office charges against them are “not proper”, their attorney Anil Nandlall says.
Nonetheless, Nandlall says that the men do not have to show up in court on May 7th as ordered by the magistrate as the law requires that the charges be personally served on charged persons and this has not been done.
“I am actively considering challenging the charges in the High Court and I do not believe the charges are proper and that they disclose an offence…I will certainly before the 7th of May and hopefully those proceedings will hold the charges in abeyance,” he told Stabroek News yesterday.
“If we proceed along that route, then there will be no need for the persons charged to appear before the court. In any event, the law requires the charges to be personally served on the persons who are charged. That has not been done and therefore the court cannot process unless the presence of those persons are secured before the courts,” he added.
Former Finance Minister Singh and former head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) Brassington were last week 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.
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 was 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.
Nandlall said that he has been in contact with both men and they will await his advice on if to return, which he feels they will not have to do given the two arguments he will put forward.
He said that men continue to plead their innocence and are shocked at the charges which they believe are an attempt to besmirch their characters.
“They have expressed astonishment at the charges. They both have asserted their absolute innocence and are most anxious to vindicate that innocence. They have both emphasized that they were not acting on their own accord but were simply carrying out the instructions of the board of directors of NICIL and the Cabinet’s directions. They both said that several years ago a
decision was taken at the level of the Privatization Unit as well as the NICIL Board that valuation certificates will not be the guiding factor in determining market value for properties to be disposed because the valuation certificates generated by the valuation department are not reflective of market value, in most instances they are below market value… Also, many times they were able to get much higher prices on the market than what the properties were valued for by a valuation officer ,” Nandall posited.
“Therefore, they have committed no wrong and certainly they have violated no criminal law. I am saying that it cannot be a crime under any civilized system to sell a property at a price determined by market forces albeit the valuation certificate. A valuation certificate price is merely a guide of what the price will be”, he said.
Sources close to Singh told Stabroek News that he believes the charges were made out against him because the current government got word that he has been hired by an international financial organization and wants to “tarnish his name so he is fired”.
“I will not say if he is with the World Bank, IDB or IMF but he is with one and your country’s government knows that. I think they also know that those organizations take charges and those things seriously and he might be called upon to resign. It is just an attempt to besmirch Dr. Ashni Singh’s name, an attempt to ensure he doesn’t get good employment,” one source said.
While Nandall would not disclose where Singh is employed, he confirmed it was with an international organization and said that he too believes the charges were laid not because of any breaking of the law, but are politically motivated.
‘It is clear that these charges are designed to settle political scores and two, destroy the reputation and professional standing of people… One is employed with an international organization,” Nandlall said.
He bemoaned the embarrassment that Brassington has also had to face saying that Brassington did not flee from Guyana but resigned, had his resignation accepted and left these shores for the betterment of himself and family.
‘It is significant to note that Brassignton resigned and his resignation was accepted. No query was raised at the time he handed it in. Secondly the accounts of NICIL have been audited annually by the Auditor General and examined and approved by the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly while that committee was chaired by Volda Lawrence and at a time when they had the majority in the National Assembly. For ten years these were scrutinized by all the agencies of oversight and not a single query was raised. That is why I firmly believe these charges have a sinister agenda attached.
Nandlall has already expressed that both men would be filing litigation against the state over the character damage it has caused them.
“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 had earlier told this newspaper.