SOCU wrapping up probe on five land cases involving Kowlessar

Saisnarine Kowlessar

The Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) is currently working to wrap up its investigations into five more cases of land being sold way below market value during the PPP/C’s time in office.

This latest set of matters involve former Finance Minister Saisnarine Kowlessar.

A source told this newspaper that work is being done to “complete” the investigations after which the matters will be sent to the Police Legal Advisor (PLA). At the moment the PLA is reviewing the work done on the more than two dozen similar transactions involving former Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh and former National Indus-trial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) head Winston Brassington. The duo were arrested and questioned on May 9.

Kowlessar who served as finance minister from 1999-2006 was on Monday detained for questioning and he was later released on $200,000 bail after being fingerprinted and declining to answer questions. He voluntarily turned up at SOCU’s Camp Street headquarters, where he was placed under arrest and faced with questions for about two hours. He is to return to SOCU’s headquarters on Monday.

The transactions, Kowlessar was questioned about pertain to land located at Track A, Young Street, Kingston to the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry, Sub lot R Farm which was sold to Guyana Stockfeeds Limited, Lot 1 Public Road La Penitence sold to Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (GPC), 46 Main Street sold by GCIS Inc to Hand In Hand Mutual and lands sold by Coverden Clay Works to National Hardware.

This newspaper was informed that in all of the cases the lands were sold at less than half of their true value.

While this newspaper was unable to ascertain when these transactions were completed, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall has said that some of them took place 20 years ago.

“There is a principle of law which prevents investigations of certain transactions that took place several years ago, on the ground that it is unfair and against public policy to do so because of the lapse of time”, he said in a statement to the media.

Nandlall stated that the rationale is that if persons were to be charged as a result of those investigations, it would amount to “an abuse of process to subject those persons to a trial because of the lapse of memory, absence of evidence and absence of witnesses, etc. – all of which will militate against an accused person having a fair trial which is guaranteed as a constitutional right”.

According to Nandlall who is representing Singh and Brassington, the law recognises that such a person may be unable to adequately defend himself in the circumstances. ”Our justice system protects against such eventuality in preservation of the doctrine of presumption of innocence”, he said while adding that the DPP has failed protected citizens from these types of investigations.

“It is unfortunate that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) does not see it as part of its constitutional mandate to protect the citizenry from these types of investigations, which are widely regarded as abusive and oppressive, but rather is part of the design that is promoting it”.

He said that it is clear beyond any doubt that the ongoing investigations are driven by a political and vindictive motive, ultimately designed to get to the period when Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, was the Minister of Finance.

“Constitutional immunities prevent them from charging him (Jagdeo) for acts done while he was President. Recognising this, they intend to go back to two decades to persecute him for transactions done while he was Minister of Finance”, he charged.

Nandlall noted that while Jagdeo was Minister of Finance, Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Janet Jagan were the Presidents. “So in effect, the new theory is that both Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Janet Jagan were corrupt and presided over these corrupt transactions! It is interesting to note that this period saw the sale of National Bank of Industry and Commerce Limited’s (NBIC) shares to Republic Bank, the sale of Stockfeeds and Neocol to Robert Badal, the sale of Guyana Stores Limited to Tony Yassin, etc. All these transactions are now labelled as corrupt transactions”, he stressed.

He questioned whether SOCU will stop at Jagdeo’s tenure as Minister of Finance or whether they intend to go after (former Finance Minister) Asgar Ally, as well.

“Only time will tell. What I do know is that they will stop at October 5, 1992. So they will not investigate the sale of Guyana Telecommunications Corporation to ATN; they will not investigate the sale of Demerara Timbers Limited, or the sale of over 7 state-owned rice mills, or the sale of the National Paint Company or the sale to Carl Greenidge, while he was Minister of Finance, of a property at Bel-Air Gardens by NICIL – none of which was the subject of any form of tender and none of which were sold pursuant to any valuation certificates, or even at market value”, he said.

According to Nandlall, what is happening is a clear misuse of the criminal legal process to persecute political opponents.

Attorney-at-law Mark Conway had told Stabroek News hours after Kowlessar’s questioning that his client was contacted and asked to come in. The attorney said that his client complied, knowing fully well that if he didn’t he could be arrested.

Conway noted that his client remained silent during questioning as the law makes provisions for this. “It is now up to them to decide when or if they will bring charges”.

Asked if his client was surprised, he responded in the affirmative, while noting that a long time has passed since his client demitted office.

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