SOCU chargesActing Chief Justice Roxane George, SC heard further arguments from attorneys representing former Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh and former Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), Winston Brassington, as the challenge to their misconduct in public office charges continued at the High Court on Monday.Attorneys Anil Nandlall and Ronald Burch-Smith appeared on behalf of the defendants, who were released on $6 million each.During Monday’s proceedings, Nandlall disputed the application of the British common law principle to Guyana’s laws, having cited conflicts with this country’s Constitution with the definition of a public officer. With several legal citations, the former Attorney General noted that the particulars of the offence for which the duo is charged has “no reference” that Singh and Brassington are public officers.“This is a fundamental defect, as the offence is misconduct in public office. They have made no allegation that the two men were public officers, so an important ingredient is missing in the charge, on the face of it,” Nandall outlined to JusticeDr Ashni Singh and Winston BrassingtonGeorge.He held to his position that the charge only has two elements; namely, ‘misconduct’ and ‘public office’. He outlined further that for misconduct to be occasioned, evidence would be needed to show high degree of recklessness or great dishonesty.“There must be an element of culpability,” the lawyer stressed.He stated that his legal team intends to exhibit an advertisement for the lands under question, to which the Judge responded that it should have already been done. Nevertheless, Nandall told the acting Chief Justice that it would be a worrying development for citizens to face charges for having accepted a lower valuation ($6 million against $12 million) where the lower valuation was calculated by Government’s own Chief Valuation Officer.“Our criminal law can never be so subjective, so unpredictable, so dysfunctional…If there’s another Executive Government that starts to review this Government’s Executive Policies and starts to pursue charges, where will it end?” Nandlall questioned.His colleague Burch-Smith observed that the former NICIL Head, Brassington, “never signed” the agreement.He referred the Queens Atlantic deal, where “a midpoint was chosen”, though reiterating that his client never signed the document. Burch-Smith stressed that the entire South Georgetown (including East, West, North and South Ruimveldt) and areas beyond Sherriff Street, Georgetown were all developed by Government. On these grounds, the lawyer stated, he could not understand how these actions with reference to the current case could be deemed misconduct.Justice George, however, reminded both attorneys to stick to evidence presented at the bar table.Singh, 45, of Goedverwagting, East Coast Demerara, and Brassington, 50, of Florida, USA, are accused of selling various properties at prices the State contends were grossly undervalued. These charges have to do with the sale of several plots of land on the East Coast of Demerara to National Hardware Guyana Ltd for over $598 million; the sale of land to Scady Business Corporation at a cost of $150 million, and to Multi-cinemas Guyana Inc. at a cost of $185 million. Bruch-Smith on Monday that he has not seen the documents relating to Scady Business Corporation.These charges were filed by Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) at the Magistrates’ Court following advice obtained from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DDP), but the two former Government officials denied the allegations. Their lawyers subsequently secured stays of execution to halt the lower court proceedings while they challenge the misconduct charges in the High Court.But then another set of charges were filed against Singh and Brassington, this time over the sale of the former Sanata Textiles Complex to Queens Atlantic Investment Inc (QAII). This, like other charges, was also challenged in the High Court, and back in July, acting Chief Justice Roxane George consolidated the four ‘misconduct in public office’ charges into one substantive challenge.It was alleged that between October 26 and December 20, 2010, the duo acted recklessly when they agreed to the sale of the Sanata Textiles Complex to QAII. According to the charge, the 18.976-acre property was sold for $697.8 million, but it was valued at $1.04 billion. However, according to privatisation documents published by NICIL, the property was valued at $245 million by the Government’s Chief Valuation Officer, but QAII paid $809.5 million for the property – more than three times the Government valuation as Guyana Times had reported. The case continues on October 23.
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