DPP nixes charges against ministers

-PPP condemns decision

Shalimar Ali-Hack

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack yesterday discontinued the private criminal charges brought by PPP/C MPs against two government ministers since she said that the correct procedure, which included the filing of police reports, was not followed.

The decision by Ali-Hack sparked a fierce attack on her from the PPP which charged that she had “buckled under pressure”.

Last week, attorney-at-law Anil Nandlall filed private criminal charges on behalf of PPP/C MPs Juan Edghill and Vickram Bharrat against Ministers Volda Lawrence and George Norton for Misconduct in Public Office Contrary to Common Law. The two ministers were scheduled to make their first appearance at the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court today.

The DPP in a statement yesterday pointed out that the private criminal charges never resulted from a police investigation.

The statement said that the charges for the offence of misconduct in public office contrary to the Common Law were discontinued by the DPP under Article 187 (1) of the Constitution.

The statement from the DPP added “These charges concern a grave issue under the criminal law in relation to two serving Ministers. In the interest of good governance in the State of Guyana such allegations ought first to have been reported to the Guyana Police Force for an investigation to be launched and the advice of the DPP sought”.

Article 187 (1) C which states that the DPP has the power “to discontinue at any stage before judgment is delivered any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by him or any other person or authority” was the authority the DPP used to discontinue the charges.

In a statement from its Freedom House headquarters, the PPP said that “The discontinuance by the (DPP) of the private criminal charges filed against Ministers, Volda Lawrence and George Norton, and her failure to do likewise, in relations to similar charges instituted against former Minister Dr. Ashni Singh and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Ltd (NICIL), Mr. Winston Brassington, is a clear demonstration that the DPP has buckled under pressure exerted by a Government that has caused criminal investigations to commence against her, in relation to a plot of land allocated to her, under the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) Administration”.

Ali-Hack had been questioned last year by the Special Organised Crime Unit in relation to land she had been allocated under the PPP/C government at the so-called Pradoville 2 scheme. Charges against a number of persons are expected to be brought in this investigation.

The PPP charged yesterday that the reasons given by the DPP for her latest action “is comical at best. The DPP expects the Guyanese citizens to believe that she is responsible for `good governance’ and that `good governance’ constitutes preventing the prosecution of $14M of taxpayers’ money being paid to rent a house monthly, in Albouystown to store drugs and the single-sourcing by a Minister of $605M of taxpayers’ dollars to purchase drugs, without any resort to the Procurement Act”.

The PPP described as nonsensical the other reason advanced by the DPP for her decision, that is, that a report must first be made to the Police for a probe to be done.

“The entire country knows that when Christopher Ram instituted private criminal charges against former President, Bharrat Jagdeo, no such prior report was made to the Police and the DPP refused to discontinue those charges. In short, the DPP is telling the ordinary Guyanese that they cannot exercise their right to file private criminal charges against a functionary of the state, without first asking the state to investigate the charges”, the PPP argued.

It said that a prudent DPP would have at least requested the evidence that is available to support the private criminal charges, before making a decision. The PPP charged that the DPP’s Chambers has compromised its independence and autonomy.

“There is no doubt that we are rapidly descending into an authoritarian police state, where independent constitutional bodies are being contaminated and pressured by this Government to relinquish their independence and constitutional responsibilities”, the PPP declared.

Retaliation

Government has asserted that the charges were filed in retaliation for the charges that were brought by the state in the previous week against Singh and Brassington, who were charged in absentia with three counts of misconduct in public office over land deals under the Jagdeo administration. Calls had been made by Nandlall for the charges to be reviewed by the DPP.

Nandlall had penned a letter to the DPP asking for a review of the charges filed against Singh and Brassington. In a response  dated April 18, 2018, DPP Ali-Hack stated “thank you for your letter…Please be advised that the contents thereof have been noted”.

Yesterday, Nandlall filed more private criminal charges, this time against Minister of Finance Winston Jordan, Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson and former Minister of Education Dr Rupert Roopnaraine. Though summons have been issued for these Ministers to appear in court on April 30, Stabroek News was told that it is likely that these cases will also be discontinued by the DPP in keeping with the announcement made yesterday.

Shortly after the DPP’s statement was issued, Nandlall dismissed the explanation given and accused the Chambers of acting in a discriminatory manner.

“I feel the DPP’s discontinuance of the charges against the two Ministers but apparent refusal to do likewise in relation to Singh and Brassington’s charges smacks of discrimination and inequality before the law. Article 149 of the Constitution guarantees to the citizenry protection from discrimination and equality before the law as fundamental rights and freedoms”, he said.

The attorney stated that he had said previously that the private criminal charges filed against sitting ministers and the charges filed against former government functionaries “will test the independence of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions”.

He reminded that he had written the DPP inviting a review of the charges filed against Singh and Brassington but to date no information of the outcome of such an examination has been forthcoming.

He said that as “far as I am aware”, no one wrote requesting a review of the charges filed against the two ministers. The DPP in its statement did not say who made the request or when such a request was made. However this newspaper was assured that the issue was referred to the Chambers for examination.

Noting that Attorney General Basil Williams SC said at a press conference on Saturday that “the Government expects” the DPP to review the private criminal charges filed against the Ministers, Nandlall said that “It is now apparent that even without a request, the Government’s expectations were met”.

Williams had said that “It is an aberration to the rule of law, an insult to good governance and an abuse of the process of the court to allow such unsubstantiated recourse to our justice system based solely on malice, whim and caprice and no evidence of criminality on the part of the Ministers, Ms. Volda Lawrence and Dr. George Norton, contended by the investigatory and prosecutorial agencies of the State,”. He had said too that the charges were “political” in nature and warned that to tolerate an abuse of the court process could open the floodgates for more charges.

Nandlall in his statement yesterday said that “it must be very fresh and new jurisprudence which confers a power on the DPP to be responsible for `good governance in the State of Guyana”” before quoting Section 187 of the Constitution.

Aside from 187 (1)(C), the Article states that the DPP has the power (a) to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court, other than a court- martial, in respect of any offence against the laws of Guyana. (b) to take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other person or authority”.

He stressed that nowhere in this section does the term ‘good governance’ appears. “This must be the first and only DPP office in the English speaking Commonwealth that views itself as being responsible for ‘good governance’ within a State. In this regard, the DPP has clearly been influenced by extraneous and irrelevant considerations, has acted ultra-vires and unconstitutionally by ascribing to her office, a functional responsibility with which it is not endowed”, he said.

The attorney added that it is incumbent upon him to point out that the institution of private criminal charges has been part of the country’s criminal jurisprudence for over a century. “It was always initiated by a private individual without the involvement of the Police and the DPP”, he said while noting that there is absolutely no known legal requirement that the allegation must to be first reported to the Police and the advice of the DPP sought. “In fact, in many instances, it is the failure of the Guyana Police Force to act or to act professionally that led to the evolution and practice of private criminal charges”, he contended.

Further, Nandlall said that the position adopted by the DPP on this occasion will “retard the advancement of our criminal jurisprudence and stultify the right and freedom of the citizen to institute and prosecute a private criminal charge without the involvement of the State”.

He reminded that when attorney and accountant Christopher Ram instituted private criminal charges against former President Bharrat Jagdeo, the matter was neither reported to nor investigated by the Police. “Yet the DPP did not consider it a part of ‘good governance’ to discontinue those charges.

“The DPP’s latest action has certainly strengthened Singh and Brassington’s intended challenge of their charges in the High Court. Ashni Singh and Winston Brassington are absolutely justified in concluding that they have been discriminated against by the DPP. I did say that these cases will test the independence of the office of the DPP. They have”, he said.

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