There is uncertainty over the current status of charges against consultant Madanlall Ramraj, one of the former Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) members accused of fraud, after a war of words yesterday between his attorney and the Attorney General’s Chambers.
At the centre of the dispute is whether the handover by the prosecution of a heavily redacted copy of the GRDB forensic audit report, which informed the charges, satisfied an order made last week by Justice Navindra Singh, who had given five days for the document to be produced, failing which the charges against Ramraj would be permanent stayed.
Shortly before 10 am, Nandlall, who had the 160-page report with the majority of the content blacked out, emerged from Justice Singh’s courtroom and informed reporters that the judge had “correctly ruled that this is not a report, that this does not satisfy his order and that his order remains that the charges are permanently stayed in the Magistrate’s Court against Madanlall Ramraj.”
On June 5th, after reviewing an application and hearing submissions from the lawyers on both sides, Justice Singh had given the prosecution five days to produce the audit report, failing which the charges would be permanently stayed.
Nandlall had filed the application for the stay after the prosecution failed to comply with an order made by trial magistrate Leron Daly to hand over the audit report to the defence.
However, Nandlall’s account yesterday was strongly denied by Solicitor-General Kim Kyte-Thomas and the Attorney General’s Chambers.
Kyte-Thomas, in a telephone interview, told Stabroek News that the audit report was handed over. She said based on the information received from the prosecutor, the magistrate had ordered that a redacted version be handed over and this is what was delivered to Nandlall’s office last Friday afternoon. “No stay was granted… you see it is a question of relevance. We cannot serve them the entire report when the entire report is not only in relation to them but other issues and other persons. The report to be served on them is the report relevant to them,” she stressed. “What was served was relevant to him; that is why all those things were taken out. Those things are in relation to other persons. He can’t see that. You would be giving out other people’s information to him that is not relevant to him,” she added.
Proceedings will continue
According to Kyte-Thomas, some of the information contained in the audit report is relevant to persons who are not before the court. Justice Singh’s order said serve or stay and “we have served it,” she insisted, while maintaining that the proceedings against Ramraj in the Magistrate’s Court will continue to be heard, “until some court says differently.”
At the High Court yesterday, Nandlall said he was “totally shocked that this is the level to which we have descended in the administration of justice in Guyana,” while thumbing through the report. He pointed out that not more than 10 pages were readable. He could not say who brought the report to his office on Friday but surmised that it was either a special prosecutor or a representative of the AG Chambers.
Nandlall reminded that the judge was told previously that the reason why the entire report could not be handed over was because the forensic auditor, Nigel Hinds, had done a series of audits and all the reports were bound together. He said that it was stated that if the defence wanted the GRDB report, then that would have to be pulled out of a bundle of reports. “It is clear that they were lying because the GRDB report is separate,” he stressed, while holding up the document so that the cover page was visible.
He said that what was handed over to him was clearly not what is being used in the Magistrate’s Court. “This clearly is the GRDB report. Look what they have done with it. It is absolutely undecipherable and no reasonable mind can read this and come to any informed position so this judge had correctly, I think, ruled that his order has not been complied with and that all the charges in the Magistrate’s Court are stayed,” he said, while adding that this is a case where the DPP should intervene and terminate prosecution.
Nandlall stressed that if an audit report is being used as the basis for a charge and the Magistrate’s Court has so found and has ordered the prosecution, who is a Minister of Justice to give the report to the defendant, “the prosecutor has a duty… to do so. The function of a prosecutor is not to ensure conviction but to ensure that all available and relevant evidence are presented before the court for the court to make a fair and reasoned decision.”
He pointed out that in this case there is “clandestine, sinister, orchestrated documents interfered with in a material way in order to deny an accused person the right to a fair trial.” Nandlall posited that “we are descending into deep, dangerous waters as a country. Our criminal justice system and our legal system is under siege” and he added that what has occurred is a “travesty that every single Guyanese should be concerned about. Persons who are charged with an offence have a constitutional right to be afforded facilities for the preparation of his defence.”
However, the Attorney General’s Chambers, in a statement, described comments attributed to Nandlall about the situation and published by online news service Demerara Waves as “false and ludicrous contents.”
In the statement, it explained that the issue was raised informally yesterday by the attorney, who was before Justice Singh on two unrelated matters.
“On the conclusion of the first matter Mr. Nandlall then sought to engage the Judge on the matter of Madanlall Ramraj v The Attorney General which was concluded on the 5th June, 2018,” it said, while noting that Justice Singh “correctly cautioned Mr. Nandlall that the said matter was concluded, had no return date, was not listed and if he, Nandlall had any issues with the purported ‘non-compliance’ he should properly approach the court for an order for directions. The judge made NO order on the 11th June, 2018 staying the fraud charges…,” the statement said.
It also explained that State Counsel Collene Liverpool was present in court for the other matters with Nandlall when, in her presence, the Judge reprimanded the former Attorney General, saying that “he could not approach him in this manner.”
The Chambers were adamant that the order of the court was faithfully complied with and denied the “dishonest and untruthful content” of the news article, which it said was orchestrated to mislead the general public, the prosecution and the Magistrate’s Court in the conduct of the criminal prosecution of the charges.
Not formally heard
When contacted for clarification, Nandlall acknowledged that the matter was not formally heard. He explained that he visited the judge of own volition to inquire of him whether the report complied with the order made on June 5th. “The judge examined the report and confirmed to me that it does not comply with his order and if it is necessary, I can make an application in writing to him for directions if I wish. He said that it is not necessary because he has already made an order that unless the forensic report is served on me or my client the matter stands permanently stayed in the Magistrate’s Court.”
Nandlall, in his original application, had asked the court for a declaration that the failure of the prosecution to disclose a copy of audit report constitutes a violation of Article 144 of the Constitution, more particularly his client’s right to be afforded facilities for the preparation of his defence and other protections of the law as well as an order for a permanent stay of proceedings.
After reading all the affidavits and hearing arguments from the lawyers on both sides, Justice Singh last Tuesday found that the failure of the prosecution to disclose a copy of the forensic audit report constituted a violation of Article 144 of the Constitution. As a result, he ordered that unless the report is produced by the prosecution to either Ramraj or his legal representatives within five days, a permanent stay will be granted, quashing, vacating and setting aside the charges of Fraudulent Omission.
Similar applications filed by Ramraj’s co-accused, former GRDB General Manager Jagnarine Singh, former Deputy Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture Prema Roopnarine, business consultant Badrie Persaud, and PPP/C MP Nigel Dharamlall were recently dismissed.
Acting Chief Justice Roxane George in dismissing those matters said that it was not necessary for her to do the work of Magistrate Daly since it was in the domain of the magistrate to act upon the refusal of the prosecution to provide the audit report as she had previously ordered.
Attorney for Roopnarine and Persaud, Sase Gunraj, who was present at court, told reporters that he would be filing an appeal.
“It is unfortunate that we have had to come to the High Court to have these sort of orders made but the fact that we have come and the court has found it fit to look at it and determine that the failure of the prosecution to provide the report as was ordered on several occasions by the magistrate, it vindicates our position. So, while I appreciate the ruling of the Chief Justice, in light of this ruling… in another matter that is exactly all fours with our matter, then I believe the appeal is imperative and we will file that in short order,” he said.
Gunraj is of the opinion that the matter in the lower court ought to be dismissed. “I would… expect the magistrate to let good sense prevail and let that position transcend to other matters as well and dismiss those matters”, he said.