Each of the five special prosecutors hired by government has been paid a $2 million retainer fee, which is to be applied against his fees, costs incurred or expenses paid on the behalf of the state and $20,000 per hour for legal services, Attorney General Basil Williams SC has revealed.
Since they were hired in January last year, the quintet has handled a total of 12 cases, Williams also disclosed to the National Assembly yesterday in written responses to questions asked by his predecessor, PPP/C parliamentarian Anil Nandlall.
In 2017, $109 million was allocated to the Attorney-General’s chambers and in the 2018 budget an undisclosed sum was allocated for the hiring of Special Prosecutors, including a foreign lawyer.
Against this background, Nandlall asked Williams to furnish the House with information on the number of Special Prosecutors hired, their salaries and benefits, travel and hotel costs incurred and the number of cases they are/have been handling for the period January, 2017 to March, 2018.
In response, Williams said that five prosecutors were hired. He added that the prosecutors are paid a “retainer fee of two million dollars ($2,000,000) to be applied against the Attorney’s fees and cost incurred by the Client or expenses paid by the Attorney on behalf of the Client and twenty thousand dollars ($20,000) per hour for legal services rendered in prosecuting matters in Court.”
Williams noted that government has incurred no travel or hotel costs relating to the prosecutors since they were hired. “It should be noted that [the] Agreement signed by the Special Prosecutors is dated 7th June, 2017. Therefore, there would be no cases assigned before that date,” he added, having noted that they have handled 12 cases since they were engaged.
In July, 2016, the government had announced that it was awaiting advice on the feasibility of setting up a Special Prosecutors’ Office to handle high-profile cases. At the time, Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira had voiced concern about the move, saying that it will be yet “another attempt to witch-hunt political opponents.”
Months later, in January, 2017, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) issued fiats to six attorneys – Michael Somersall, Hewley Griffith, Lawrence Harris, Patrice Henry, Compton Richardson, and Trenton Lake. Their hiring by government was in keeping with the establishment of the Special Prosecutors’ Office.
Williams, without confirming the identities of the special prosecutions, had explained on January 25th that they would be working closely with the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) and would prosecute a number of high profile matters, including the case against former Ministry of the Presidency Permanent Secretary Omar Shariff.
Reading from a prepared statement, Williams later told reporters during a press conference that six persons were appointed by Cabinet. The fiats, he informed, were issued by DPP to prosecute the case against Shariff and his wife, Savitri Hardeo. The couple were charged with failing to comply with a court order made in October 2016. Shariff was sent on leave to facilitate a SOCU investigation related to tax evasion and his employment was later terminated.
When asked later how government decided on the persons to make up the team, Williams had said he could not discuss internal matters of Cabinet, but added that the lawyers were “well qualified.”
He had also declined to confirm a list of names printed in the Guyana Chronicle as being the special prosecutors for the Pradoville 2 case. However, three of the attorneys he named during the press conference were on that list. Henry, who he described as a “solid police prosecutor for many years,” is the special prosecutor in the Shariff case. He also named Lake, who he said was on attachment with the DPP, and Richardson, who he had referred to as a “giant in prosecutions.”
Nandlall has argued that the retention of the attorneys to prosecute a number of high profile cases is unconstitutional and he had warned that the right to a fair trial will be compromised by a politically-tainted process.
“First of all, you have the violation of a constitutional and legal principle taking place…where the AG [Attorney General] is attempting to deal with prosecutions… so you have a trespass in the domain of the separation of powers doctrine,” Nandlall had told this newspaper last November.
Nandlall had stated that following the last budget presentation, he had questioned the allocation of $100 million to the Attorney General Chambers/Ministry of Legal Affairs and recalled Williams informing the National Assembly that it was for the hiring of special prosecutors to prosecute offences of corruption committed under the previous government.
Making it clear that he was dissatisfied with that answer, he had stressed that the AG has no authority over the prosecutorial arm of the state. “That is the responsibility of the Director of Public Prosecutions, an independent office, because the Attorney General himself can be prosecuted,” he had said.
He had indicated that he could list the “government-affiliated” law offices the chosen special prosecutors practice out of, while adding that the lawyers are still engaged in private practice but were being paid by the Ministry of Legal Affairs.