Opposition MPs, others on $500,000 bail each in alleged fraud at rice board

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…Attorney Nandlall says “no evidence to support claims”
Earlier today (Friday), six former members of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) were granted bail in the sum of $500,000 each when they were arraigned at the Georgetown Magistrates Courts; for allegedly omitting from the general ledger of the GRDB, $362 million while they served on the entity’s board.

They were not required to plead to the indictable charge which stated that from years 2011- 2015, they fraudulently omitted records regarding the PetroCaribe Fund.

Those charged were identified as former GRDB General Manager, Jagnarine Singh,  former Deputy General Manager of the GRDB, Rickey Ramraj, Badrie Persaud; former Deputy Permanent Secretary (Finance) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Prema Roopnarine, PPP Parliamentarian, Nigel Dharamlall and head of the Rice Producers Association, Dharamkumar Seeraj. 
They are all required to return to court on June 22,2017. 
On Thursday, the officials were summoned by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) for questioning in relation to the board’s financial operations from the years 2011 to 2015. 

INews was told that each member received a telephone call informing them that they were being charged and that they should report to the SOCU headquarters. However, they were not immediately told of their offense. 

After several hours of being interrogated by SOCU officials, they were then transported to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to have their fingerprints taken, then to the Brickdam Police Station where they were charged and then bailed. 

While none of the members were allowed a chance to interact with the media, former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall- who was also representing some of the former GRDB members- explained that the charge “concerns the failure to make certain entries in relation to monies received through a foreign funded project.”

He described the situation as harassment, and advised the affected persons to sue the State for compensations since he believes the matter to be frivolous and is certain that no convictions will be made.

The former AG also lamented that there was no evidence to support claims that the six former GRDB members intended to commit fraud by the omission of records. 

Nandlall criticised SOCU for having the former GRDB members charged for the omission of “a ceremonial entry into the record,” rather than the accountants of the entity.

During the early part of 2017, it had been reported that false and misleading statements were being sent to the Governments of Guyana and Venezuela by the former General Manager of the GRDB, in order to obtain monies for the PetroCaribe Fund. 

The fund was established almost a decade ago when Venezuela introduced an oil sale arrangement where Guyana and a number of CARICOM and Latin American countries take oil at concessionary rates, pay a percentage in advance and the balance over a 20-year period. The PetroCaribe Fund was supposed to hold millions of US dollars.

This inconsistency was just one among several financial irregularities highlighted by Nigel Hinds Financial Services in its forensic audit for the period 2011 to 2015. (Ramona Luthi)

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