The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has signalled its intention to appeal the dismissal of the charges against former Public Service Minister Jennifer Westford and her aide Margaret Cummings for the alleged theft of over $600 million from the state.
Although the DPP’s Chambers in a press release yesterday said a notice of appeal was filed in the Guyana Court of Appeal on August 30th, it later clarified when contacted by this newspaper that the actual appeal has not yet been filed.
Stabroek News was reliably informed that what the state has done is given oral notice of its intention to appeal.
As a result, the grounds on which the DPP will be appealing the matter is not yet known. These will be disclosed once the formal appeal is filed.
Thereafter, a date will be set for hearing of the matter by the Guyana Court of Appeal, before which Stabroek News was told it will be filed.
As required by law, appeals are to be filed within 14 days of matters being concluded.
The DPP’s release announcing the planned appeal was in response to a story published in the August 29th edition of this newspaper, under the headline “DPP should appeal dismissal of charges against Westford and Cummings, lawyers say.”
The matters against Westford and Cummings were concluded on August 24th.
Principal Magistrate Judy Latchman dismissed the charges against the former PPP/C government minister and Cummings for the alleged theft of over $600 million from the former government.
Delivering her highly anticipated ruling in Georgetown, Magistrate Latchman told the two accused that the charges were bad in law as Westford was not a public officer at the time, and while Cummings was a public officer, there was no evidence to show that the money was taken and not used for its intended purposes.
The joint charges against Westford and Cummings, the Personnel Officer at the former ministry, stated that between the period October 19th, 2011 and April 28th, 2015, they stole a total of $639,420,000, belonging to the Government of Guyana, which they received by virtue of employment.
The money was said to have been requested for training activities to be conducted in the 10 administrative regions.
Following a police investigation and a review of the case by the DPP, the two women were charged in July, 2015.
Some of the 48 witnesses who testified during the trial could not recall the training activities. How-ever, Magistrate Latchman found that there was no prima facie evidence that Westford was a public officer at the time, as defined in the Interpretation and General Clauses Act. The magistrate went on to say that Westford was not appointed by the Public Service Commission but by the president, which does not make her a public officer. “In these circumstances, I find that at the material time Dr Jennifer Westford was not a public officer. Since all the charges against Jennifer Westford are for larceny by public officer, I find them all bad in law,” she stated.
Prior to the DPP’s public announcement of its intention to appeal the matter, legal minds had posited that such a course needed to be adopted, while questioning why a technicality that rendered the charges against the former accused bad in law was not detected during the two years the matter engaged the court’s attention.
As it relates to Cummings, the court did find prima facie evidence that she was a public officer, that she worked for Westford, that she collected the funds, and that she returned same to the minister’s office.
Cummings’ name also appeared on the memorandums as the coordinator of the activities planned for the regions, however her signature did not. The magistrate said there was no evidence that Cummings agreed to coordinate the events mentioned on the memorandums and there was also no evidence that she was authorized to spend the cash and that she did so.