Appeal Court sets aside fraud conviction of Deeds Registrar

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The Court of Appeal has set aside the fraud conviction and sentence of Registrar of Deeds, Azeena Baksh.

On March 11, 2020, Baksh was found guilty of fraudulently procuring over $4.5 million while being employed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) between 2014 and 2017.

The charge against her stated that while being employed by the JSC between May 1, 2014, and January 31, 2017, in Georgetown, she caused or procured valuable securities of $4,534,486 to be delivered to her Bank of Nova Scotia account for her own use, pretending she was a contracted employee at the Deeds Registry.

Charges were instituted against her in 2017. Then, the Legal Affairs Ministry had disclosed that the Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority had requested that an investigation be launched into financial irregularities in Baksh’s payroll documentation.

Upon her appointment as the Deeds Registrar in 2012, Baksh received a salary of $326,171 monthly, as well as duty, entertainment, and housing allowances among many other benefits that were approved by the JSC. But the Legal Affairs Ministry said that she increased her salary to $400,000 in 2014 when the Deeds Registry was merged with the Commercial Registry, without the approval of the JSC.

It was further reported that Baksh – being the sole person with authority to sign off on such documents – approved gratuity to herself and several staff members from the period May 2014 to November 2016.

Following a trial before Magistrate Leron Daly, she was found guilty of the offence.

Magistrate Daly ordered that she repay the full sum she allegedly procured. She was also ordered to lodge $1 million and was given three months to repay the balance.

Dissatisfied with the decision of the lower court, Baksh, through her lawyer Nigel Hughes, has asked that the decision of the Magistrate “be wholly revered, set aside and/or discharged.”

Despite being found guilty, Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, had confirmed that Baksh is still the Registrar of Deeds since her appointment was never rescinded or revoked by the JSC. The tenure of the last JSC expired on September 12, 2017.

The last JSC was appointed by former President Donald Ramotar on September 11, 2014. The tenure of each appointed member is for three years, therefore, the tenure of the last Commission expired on September 12, 2017.

Among other things, the functions of the JSC are to advise the President on the appointment of Judges, except for the Chancellor and the Chief Justice.

It also has the power to make appointments to remove and to exercise disciplinary control over persons holding or acting in the following offices – Commissioner of Title, Magistrate, Director of Public Prosecutions, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Registrar of the High Court, Deputy Registrar of the High Court, Registrar of Deeds and Deputy Registrar of Deeds and to such offices connected with the courts or for appointment to which legal qualifications are required as may be prescribed by Parliament.

Nandlall had previously stated that the Legal Affairs Ministry has no powers to appoint, discipline, or dismiss anyone in relation to the office of the Registrar of Deeds.

He explained that if Baksh’s conviction is quashed or set aside by the Court of Appeal, then the Board of the Deeds and Commercial Registry will address the issue of her resumption.
The Attorney General has on numerous occasions roasted his predecessor Basil Williams for playing a major role in instituting the politically trumped-up charges against Baksh.

Nandlall had argued, “In my humble view, the decision to charge Baksh was a politically-driven one by my predecessor. Baksh was charged for simply receiving her salary from the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority, an Authority established by the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority Act, which authorised the transfer of all staff from the Deeds Registry and converted them into employees of the Authority, inclusive of the Registrar of Deeds.”

“In my respectful view, there is nothing wrong with a person being appointed by one agency and paid by another. If that person received two sets of remuneration, it would have been a different matter. That is not the case. The Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority Act authorises the payment of all staff of the Authority, inclusive of the Registrar of Deeds.”