Irfaan Ali on 19 fraud charges over Pradoville Two

-SOCU cites alleged undervaluing of lands

Irfaan Ali (centre) flanked by PPP/C supporters as he addressed members of the media outside of the courtroom.

Nineteen charges of conspiracy to defraud by common law, were yesterday instituted against former PPP/C Minister of Housing, Mohammed Irfaan Ali by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), after nearly two years of investigations.

The charges, which detail offences alleged to have occurred between the period of September, 2010 to March 30, 2015, are in connection with the Pradoville 2 Housing Scheme on the East Coast of Demerara, and involve housing allocations to six Cabinet members—then president Bharrat Jagdeo, Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon and ministers Priya Manickchand, Dr Jennifer Westford, Robert Persaud and Clement Rohee—along with other persons with connections to the government.

The basis of the charges is that the lands were sold far below their value. It is unclear if any action is contemplated against the recipients of the land.

Photographed at centre at court yesterday, is Irfaan Ali. Behind him is Sase Gunraj and in front of him is Priya Manickchand. This was moments after Ali would have been granted self-bail.

Ali, 38, of Lot 30 Sea Spray, Leonora, was brought into the courtroom of Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan in the company of SOCU officials, and placed in the prisoners’ dock, where he awaited the reading of the charges.

The courtroom of the Chief Magistrate was packed to capacity with media personnel and PPP/C supporters, the latter including former Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, and MP Juan Edghill.

After the 19 indictable charges were sworn to, they were read to the accused. Ali, a current Member of Parliament,  was not required to plead to the charges read.

It is alleged that Ali, on September 2, 2010, at Georgetown, conspired with other persons unknown to defraud the Government of Guyana of the sum of $5,506,698, having acted recklessly in presenting the value of a plot of State land situated at Plantation Sparendaam, ECD, when he sold said land to Clement Rohee without first obtaining a valuation to determine its true value, which was in the sum of $7,021,698.

It is also alleged that on September 2, 2010, at Georgetown, Ali allegedly conspired with other persons unknown to defraud the Government of Guyana of the sum of $5,506,698, when he acted recklessly in presenting the value of a plot of State land situated at Plantation Sparendaam ECD, and sold the land to Rebecca Ramotar without first obtaining a valuation to determine the true value, which was in the sum of $7,021,698.

Mohamed Irfaan Ali

Further, it is alleged that Ali, on November 4, 2011, at Georgetown, conspired with other persons unknown to defraud the Government of Guyana of the sum of $6,233,560, when he acted recklessly in presenting the value of a plot of State land situated at Plantation Sparendaam, ECD, having sold the said land to Rajendra Singh without first obtaining a valuation to determine the true value of the land, which was in the sum of $7,736,060.

On September 2, 2010, Ali also allegedly attempted to defraud the government of $5,461,263, after he allegedly sold a plot of land at Plantation Goedverwagting, ECD to Floreen Loretta Rahamat and Roger Luncheon, when its true value was $6,963,763.

On the aforementioned date, the accused also allegedly attempted to defraud the government of $5,506,698, after selling a plot of land at Plantation Goedverwagting, ECD, to Compton Bourne, a former head of the Caribbean Development Bank, the true value of the land being $7,021,698.

Furthermore, it was claimed that the accused once again attempted to defraud the government on that same date, of $8,106,838, when he sold a plot of land at Plantation Goedverwagting, ECD, now in the name of Dave Narine, to Priya Manickchand, when the true value of the land was $9,631,838.

Additional charges against Ali alleged that also on October 2, he attempted to defraud the government of: $5,521,698 for a plot of land at the very location, sold to Shaik Baksh when its true value was $10,363,812; for land now in the name of L.S.R Inc., a limited liability, sold to Robert Persaud, when its true value was $11,878,812; $8,365,455, for a plot of land at Goedverwagting, ECD, sold to former President Bharrat Jagdeo, when its true value was $10,669,955; $5,790,211, for a plot of land sold to former Minister Jeffrey, when its true value was $7,383,211; and $5,461,262, when he sold a plot of land to Gansham Singh and Ruveni Parag-Singh, when its true value was $6,963,763.

It was further alleged that on October 25, 2010 the accused allegedly attempted to defraud the government of $5,461,263 by selling a plot of land at Plantation Sparendaam to Ramesh Dookhoo, with the true value of the land being $6,963,763.

In January 22, 2012, Ali also allegedly attempted to defraud the government of $7,089,985 for a plot of land at Plantation Sparendaam sold to Ranjee Bishop, when its true value was $8,599,985.

On November 6, 2011, the defendant allegedly committed fraud again, this time, when he sold a plot of land at Plantation Sparendaam to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack and Mona Hack for $5,634,610, when the true value of the land was $7,123,354.

The defendant is also accused of attempting to defraud the government of $5,461,263, when he sold a plot of land at Plantation Sparendaam to former GDF Chief of Staff, Gary Best, on September 1, 2010, when the land’s true value was $6,963,763.

On September 6, 2010, there was said to be an attempt to defraud the government of $27,260,880, when a plot of land, located at Plantation Goedverwagting, was sold to Jagdeo, with its true value being $34,760,880.

Another charge claimed that on November 23, 2011, there was an attempt to defraud the government of $6,233,560, when a plot of land, located at Plantation Sparendaam was sold to Safraz Khan, with its true value being $7.7 million.

Yet another charge alleged that on May 30, 2013, Ali attempted to defraud the government of $24,752,533, when a plot of land, located at Plantation Sparendaam was sold to George Alah and Nada Alah, when its true value was $29,757,533.

Finally, on March 30, 2015, it was said that the defendant attempted to defraud the government again, this time of $21,106,100, when he sold a plot of land at Plantation Sparendaam to Fortune Developers International, when its true value was $24,106,100.

No objections

SOCU prosecutor Patrice Henry, yesterday told the court that he had no objections to bail being granted and went on to request a date for report.

Attorney Devindra Kissoon, who represented the accused in association with Anil Nandlall, Sase Gunraj, Priya Manickchand and Jaya Manickchand, made an application for the court to grant his client self-bail, based simply on his background and the facts surrounding the matter.

Nandlall later supported his colleague’s request and informed the court that he has never seen a charge such as the ones brought before the court yesterday, in Guyana or in any Commonwealth country. He described the charges as “unique”.

The attorney added that the matter for which his client has been charged has been in the public domain for the past two years.

Despite the requests made by the attorneys for the defendant to be released on self-bail, prosecutor Henry maintained his request for Ali to be placed on cash bail. He noted that the Preliminary Inquiry that will be held in the matters requires the full attendance of the defendant and cash bail will ensure same.

He noted, however, that if the court is not mindful to grant cash bail, the defendant should be asked to lodge his passport.

Priya Manickchand stated that the charges against the accused are political in nature and trumped up against him. 

The Chief Magistrate, having considered what was said by both the prosecution and the attorneys, released the accused on his own recognizance.

The matter was adjourned until January 7, 2019.

Outside the courtroom, Ali told reporters that during his tenure as Minister, with the help of staff and PPP personnel, they would have distributed more than 1000 regularized lots. He added that maybe there should have been charges for every house lot that was given.

He contended that no form of wickedness, no form of political victimization, no form of pressure, that the government brings upon them to silence them, will work.

Ali noted that the charges have made him stronger, adding that he is standing on stronger foundations to fight the dictatorship.

The charges against Ali are the culmination of a major long-running investigation into the housing scheme developed under the Jagdeo administration.

A special investigation of the housing development, which was part of a larger probe of the financial operations of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA), was conducted by accounting firm Ram & McRae.

The investigation revealed that the allocation of the land was a clandestine arrangement that was handled personally by then Minister Ali and it was concluded that a criminal case for misfeasance could be made against the PPP/C Cabinet members who benefitted.

The probe found that the awardees grossly underpaid for the lots by a total of nearly $250 million, while the state-owned National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited, National Communications Network, and Guyana Power and Light Inc were never reimbursed for millions spent to execute preparatory works.

The findings of the investigation were later referred to SOCU for a criminal probe to be launched.

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