Justice Franklyn Holder has ordered the Magistrate’s Court to halt proceedings from the charges of alleged misconduct in public office against former Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh and former head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) Winston Brassington.
The order was yesterday made by Justice Holder, who directed that all further proceedings before the lower court be stayed until the hearing and determination of the men’s challenge to the charges in the High Court.
A hearing on their challenge to the legality and validity of the criminal charges against them is slated for Friday before acting Chief Justice Roxane George.
At the conclusion of an in-chamber hearing, attorney Anil Nandlall, who is representing the men, said Justice Holder noted that the stay would be granted in order to protect the integrity of the legal process.
The reason offered, he said, was the obvious fact that an inferior court could not proceed to hear and determine charges, while the very validity of those charges were being challenged in the High Court and were yet to be heard and determined.
Additionally, he said, the judge indicated that they had raised substantial legal issues in their application before the Chief Justice for which he had to satisfy himself before granting the stay.
Meanwhile, Solicitor-General (SG) Kim Kyte—representing the Attorney General against whom the challenge was brought—emphasised that the ruling merely stayed the Magistrate’s Court from proceeding, but did not address any merits or demerits of Nandlall’s challenge to the charges brought against his clients.
Objecting to the stay being granted, Kyte had argued that Nandlall’s application had no realistic prospect of success.
She said that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was in her right to institute the charge, while noting that the applicants are unable to establish any mala fides that she acted in bad faith, or that there were any exceptional circumstances or that the charge was bad in law.
The SG maintained that the charges are “good in law,” are provided for under the laws of Guyana in accordance with Common Law, and will be relied upon in the matter to be heard by the Chief Justice.
Kyte said that Justice Holder’s only consideration at this stage was ensuring that the proceedings before the Magistrate’s Court did not continue since the Chief Justice is yet to pronounce on the actual charges.
Kyte stressed that Justice Holder’s ruling on the stay application did not concern the merits of Singh and Brassington’s application challenging the charges against them. This, she said, will be determined by the Chief Justice.
Kyte expressed confidence in the arguments, which will be made on behalf of the state.
She said that in accordance with the new civil procedure rules, the matter before the Chief Justice is expected to be heard expeditiously, while noting that a determination of those proceedings “should not take long.”
Singh and Brassington have been jointly charged 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.
The men, who now live and work outside of Guyana, flew into the country on May 8th—shortly before being scheduled to appear before Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan—and were placed on $6 million bail each after being read three counts of misconduct in public office.
They had been absent from previous hearings set by the court. The matter before the Chief Magistrate had been set to continue on June 5th.
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.