Duo seeking to have intent-to-defraud GRDB charges quashed

-say prosecution has refused to disclose audit report

Prema Ramanah-Roopnarine

Former Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Prema Ramanah-Roopnarine and business consultant Badrie Persaud have filed applications in the High Court asking for the intent to defraud charge against them which arose out of the forensic audit of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) quashed due to the failure of the prosecution to disclose a copy of the audit report to them.

In separate applications filed on their behalf by attorney-at-law Sase Gunraj, the duo is asking for a declaration that the failure of the prosecution to disclose a copy of the report which was prepared by Chartered Accountant Nigel Hinds and which formed the basis for certain investigations launched by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) constitutes a violation of Article 144 of the Constitution more particularly, the right of the applicants to be afforded facilities for the preparation of their defence and other protections of the law secured under and guaranteed by the said Article 144. The duo is also asking the court to grant an order for a “permanent stay of proceedings” quashing, vacating or setting aside the charges of fraudulent omission against the applicants and which are pending before Georgetown Magistrates’ Court 2 in the Georgetown Magisterial District.

The Attorney General of Guyana is listed as the respondent.

Badrie Persaud

The two were charged separately on May 19, 2017 and placed on $500, 000 bail each but in June 22, 2017 the Ad-ministration of Justice Act was applied and the applicants opted for a summary disposal of the matters.  It was alleged that with intent to defraud, they and others between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011, at Lot 116 to 117 Cowan Street, Kingston, being members of the GRDB, a body corporate, omitted or concurred in omitting from the organisation’s general ledger any entries particular to the sum of $52,000,000 in the Republic Bank (Guyana) account for its Agriculture Life Skills Programme. They both entered not guilty pleas. The two were directors of the GRDB. They were jointly charged with Madanlall Ramraj, Dharamkumar Seeraj, Nigel Dharamall and Jagnarine Singh.

It was argued that after several callings the matter was on July 31, 2017 transferred by Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan to Magistrate Leron Daly. On July 11, 2017 the prosecution served about 18 statements from various persons upon the applicants and a perusal of the documents found that the audit report was the basis upon which charges were proffered.

Magistrate Daly, the applicant said, proceeded with two of the matters and stayed the others until the completion of the hearing and following the commencement of the trial four witnesses including Hinds were called by the prosecution to testify.

On each occasion that testimony was given, an application was made for an order directing the prosecution to disclose the forensic audit report.

“On each occasion, the Prosecution responded by proffering various reasons for their failure to disclose the said Forensic Audit Report. Initially, the Prosecution stated that they were not in possession of a copy of the said report and therefore could not provide same”, the applicants averred in their court documents.

It was stated that eventually the magistrate after hearing arguments from both the defence and the prosecution, ordered that a copy of the report be delivered to the defence.

The prosecution gave an undertaking to comply with the court’s instruction.

“Over several occasions subsequent thereto and after numerous renewed applications by the applicants’ attorney-at-law, the Prosecution failed, neglected and/or refused to disclose the said report”, the applicants said.

The court documents stated that on or around January 30, 2018 Hinds was called to the stand to testify and commenced his testimony by disclosing that he has prepared the forensic audit report. At that point a renewed application for disclosure of the said report was made and the prosecution was again ordered to comply.

It was stated that the prosecution indicated to the court that it was not in possession of the report. A copy of the report was presented to the prosecution by Hinds and an adjournment to look at the document was sought.

“On the adjourned date, the Prosecution informed the Court that it was not willing to disclose the entire report, but only parts thereof”, the application said, while pointing out that this was vehemently objected to by the defence and the matter was adjourned.

On the adjourned date the magistrate once again ordered that the report be disclosed but “up to the present time, the Prosecution has refused to comply with the said order”.

As such the applicants accused the prosecution of refusing to even disclose the sections of the report that they undertook to do.

“It is unfair, an abuse of process and contemptuous of the Court’s order, to continue the proceedings without disclosing the entire Forensic Audit Report on the Guyana Rice Development Board”, the applications stated.

The applicants stressed that the criminal justice system is based on the principle of open and fair justice as is outlined and as such the report in question is “integral to the Prosecution’s case and as a consequence, is equally integral for the preparation of my defence and cross-examination of Prosecution witnesses”.  It was stated that it is clear that the prosecution is not prepared to disclose a copy of the document  and as such they, the applicants are being denied a fair and adequate opportunity to properly prepare their defence.

“In consequence, I will not have a fair trial and my right to a fair hearing and to the protection of the law guaranteed under Article 144 of the Constitution of Guyana is being, and will continue to be contravened. In the circumstances, unless the said trial is aborted, my constitutional rights to a fair trial and to natural justice will be violated and there will be a massive miscarriage of justice against me”, they each said in their  applications.

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