Former Minister of Finance, Dr Ashni Singh and former Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited, Winston Brassington were yesterday granted a total of $6m bail each after being read three counts of misconduct in public office when they appeared in the Georgetown Magistrate’s court.
Both Brassington, 50, of 118 Cowan Street, Kingston and Singh, 45, of Lot 129 Goedverwagting, ECD, stood in the prisoner’s docks in the courtroom of Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan as the charges were read.
The charges against Singh and Brassington alleged that the misconduct in public office occurred between December 2008 and 2009 and in May 2011.
The first joint charge stated that in 2008 while Singh was the Minister of Finance and Chairman of NICIL, he sold Scady Business Corporation a tract of land that is 4.7 acres, lettered RU and XXX, being a portion of Plantation Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara which is the property of Guyana for the sum of $150M while knowing that the property was valued at $340M when valued by Rodrigues Architects’ asset valuation officer.
The second joint charge alleged that while Singh was Minister of Finance and Chairman of NICIL, on December 28, 2009 by way of agreement of sale and purchase he acted recklessly when he sold to National Hardware Guyana Limited a tract of land, plot letter LP, a portion of Area LPP of Plantation Liliendaal, Pattensen and Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara, that is 103.88 acres, property of Guyana for $598,659,398, VAT exclusive without having a valuation of the property from a competent valuation officer.
In the third joint charge, Singh and Brassington were jointly charged for the sale of land to Multi-Cinema Guyana. The charge stated that on May 14, 2011, while Singh was the Minister of Finance and Brassington was the Chairman of NICIL, they sold a tract of land of 10.002 acres, letter A-A being a portion of Plantation Turkeyen situated on the East Coast Demerara and property of Guyana for the sum of $185,037,000 without procuring a valuation of the said property from a competent valuation officer.
Subsequent to the charges being read, Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) prosecutor Trenton Lake, told the court that they would not be applying the Administration of Justice Act (AJA) since they are still conducting investigations in the matter. He added that it may very well be premature to apply the AJA. According to Lake, SOCU holds the view that when the AJA is applied they must disclose all statements.
Attorney Anil Nandlall appeared on behalf of the defendants in association with Stanley Moore, Ronald Burch-Smith, Mark Waldron, Euclin Gomes, Marcia Nadir-Sharma, Priya Manickchand and Sase Gunraj.
Nandlall, speaking on behalf of Singh requested that his client be released on his own recognisance. He noted that the charges against his client demonstrate that Singh would have served his country as Minister of Finance and a MP in the ninth and tenth Parliaments, representing his country across the world, all done with distinction. Nandlall further stated that at no time was a summons served upon his client personally and he attended court without the court having to take certain steps.
Although reminded by the Chief Magistrate that he was making a bail application, Nandlall went on to tell the court that the charges against Singh are an expression of political victimisation. He added that the charges are the first of their kind in Guyana, giving the defence no form of guidance.
Attorney Waldron, who spoke on behalf of Brassington, also urged the court to release the accused on self-bail. He, too, noted that Brassington did not receive a summons directed to him at any time as a result of the court proceedings on Monday.
Prosecutor Lake made no objection to bail being granted but requested that the duo not be released on their own recognisance. He went on to state that there are many investigations pending for which charges might be imminent against the defendants.
In relation to Singh, the prosecutor told the court that despite efforts to have the summons served on the defendant there was no means to serve it on him.
Nandlall, in response to the SOCU prosecutor, urged the court to have regard for who the defendants are, their status, and the fact that they have no antecedents. He went on to state that the summons for Singh was served only on Monday at his wife’s office.
Considering all that was said, the Chief Magistrate granted each defendant $2M on each charge – a total of $6M for each defendant.
Having heard the bail amount, Nandlall requested a reduction stating that $6M “is way beyond the affordability of the defendants”. He went on to request that the total bail be $1M each and for an order to be made for them to be able to lodge surety with the court.
Nandlall’s request for a reduction of bail was denied by the Chief Magistrate, however, she stated that she would allow the defendants to lodge surety.
The matter was then adjourned to June 5.
Approximately 20 minutes elapsed before the defendants were escorted, shackled at their hands, down court one’s prisoners’ chute and into the court lockups, as PPP supporters, including former president Donald Ramotar, former Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, Clement Rohee, Juan Edghill, and many others, who sat through the court hearing, lent their support to the two accused.
The charges against the duo stem from criminal investigations conducted by SOCU into the findings of a forensic audit of NICIL.
Attorney Nandlall was last week denied an oral request by the High Court for an interim order to stay the Magistrate’s Court from proceedings until the determination of his challenge to the actual charges laid against the men. The hearing of his substantive application is still to be held.