Unable to locate what it describes as “stones” that are purported to be diamonds, which were recovered by police from a robbery in 1994, the Attorney-General’s Chambers has said it is prepared to go to trial against owner Ronald Khan.
The announcement was made yesterday morning by Solicitor General (SG) Kim Kyte, who said that no settlement will be made, while adding that Khan, a miner, will have to prove that the stones were in fact diamonds and carried a value of $54 million as is being claimed by him.
Justice Fidela Corbin-Lincoln had previously adjourned the case for report after the state requested additional time to locate the diamonds as it had been indicated by counsel for Khan that once his uncut diamonds were found, he would no longer pursue the matter.
When the case was called yesterday morning, however, Kyte told the court that though earnest endeavours have been made in an attempt to locate the alleged diamonds, the search has been extremely difficult and has yielded no success. She noted that some persons who were involved in the case have since died.
As a result, the SG said that the matter will have to proceed to trial, as had been indicated by Khan’s attorney, Kezia Williams.
Raising a preliminary point for argument in the state’s case, the SG said that Khan is statutorily barred from making the application in which he seeks to cover his alleged diamonds, since it falls outside of the three-year limitation period as provided by law.
Assuming but not admitting that the stones were diamonds, the state argues that the action filed by Khan is statute-barred as it contravenes provisions of the Limitation Act.
“Every action and suit for any movable property, or upon any contract, bargain, or agreement relating to movable property, or to recover money lent without written acknowledgment or upon any account or book debt, or to recover any salary or the value of any goods sold and delivered, shall be brought within three years next after the cause of action or suit has arisen,” Section 6 of the Act states.
Given that the robbery of Khan’s Potaro mining camp occurred in 1994, Kyte advanced that he could have commenced civil proceedings to recoup his property anytime within the three years therefrom.
The SG noted, however, that Khan did not commence such proceedings until 2011.
To the judge’s question as to the legal procedure for getting back the diamonds since it had been retained by the police for exhibits in the robbery trial, the SG noted that the onus was on Khan to pursue his civil claim to get back his diamonds within that three-year limitation period.
She noted further that it has always been the regular legal practice of the courts to make orders that exhibits be photographed and returned to owners where the circumstance so necessitate.
It is the state’s contention that Khan did not have to await the completion of the criminal trial to request that his diamonds be returned to him.
Noting its decision to go to trial, Kyte stressed that not only must Khan prove that the stones were diamonds, but also that they were valued at $54,000,000.
Having regard to the addresses from the state, Justice Corbin-Lincoln set August 23rd for commencement of the trial. Both sides were ordered to file witness statements no later than June 22nd.
Meanwhile, submissions on the issue of the limitation period are to be filed by the state, on or before July 6th and served on the plaintiff (Khan) and his lawyers, with the latter to respond no later than July 20th.
While co-counsel for the state Joanann Edghill-Stuart had previously undertaken to ascertain what has become of the criminal matter, the court made no enquiry regarding this at yesterday’s hearing.
At a hearing on May 8th, Edghill-Stuart had asked the court for two weeks to ascertain the location of the $54M worth of diamonds belonging to Khan.
She had said that during that time renewed efforts would have been made to locate the precious minerals, while adding that steps would also have been made to ascertain the status of the criminal matter regarding the theft of the diamonds which was being heard at the Mahdia Magistrate’s Court.
Being the subject-matter of his application before the High Court, Williams had said that her client would have been willing to settle the matter once his diamonds were returned to him.
Khan is being represented by Williams, in association with attorney Nigel Hughes.
In a writ filed on January 3rd, 2011, requesting the return of his diamonds from the police, Khan argued that the items were being wrongfully detained by the Guyana Police Force (GPF).
It is against this backdrop that he sought an order directing the Attorney-General and/or the Commissioner of Police to return his diamonds forthwith.
In the alternative, he is seeking an order directing the Commissioner of Police to compensate him for the full value of the diamonds—that being $54,000,000.
Khan is also seeking damages in the sum of $100,000 together with interest and court costs for what he maintains is the wrongful detention of his property by the police.
He also wants any further or other order which the court may see fit and deem just to grant.
The plaintiff is asking, too, for whatever sum as may be allowed on taxation for costs.
According to the writ, seen by this newspaper, Khan had noted that if the amount claimed was paid to him, his attorneys or agent at least four days before the time fixed for appearance, further proceedings would have been stayed.
Khan noted in his statement of claim, that he at all times was the owner of the diamonds.
He said that in 1994, his mining camp at Ewang Creek, Potaro (Potaro-Siparuni) was robbed of the diamonds, which were subsequently recovered by police and taken to the Mahdia Police Station, where it had been lodged.
There, he said, he inspected the diamonds and verified the quantity and amount with police officers. After this was done, the plaintiff said that the officers then transported the items from Mahdia to the ‘E and F’ Division of the GPF.
He said he was informed that the diamonds were required as exhibits in the criminal trial of the persons charged with the armed robbery of his camp.
Despite the passage of several years, however, Khan said that the GPF was unable to conclude the prosecution of the alleged defendants as some of them had escaped while others died.
Sixteen years after the robbery—by letter of 24th November, 2010, the plaintiff said he, through his attorney, wrote the Commissioner of Police requesting the return of his diamonds. He said that while receipt of his letter was acknowledged, the Commissioner of Police failed to return his property.
According to Khan, despite making several demands, the Attorney General had “failed and or refused,” to return his diamonds.