The Government of Guyana has initiated proceedings in the High Court to repossess several acres of lands at Plantation Ruimveldt, Greater Georgetown, that were sold way below the market price to popular businessman, Wilfred Brandford, owner of Car Care Enterprise.
Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, who filed the lawsuit, submitted that the State is the lawful owner of the property.
Brandford was a board member of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) under the previous A Partnership for Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Administration. He was issued with a Certificate of Title No 2020/11 dated April 15, 2020, for parcels 4725 and 4805 Block XXX Plantation Ruimveldt.
The parcels of land comprising 0.710 and 0.887 acres respectively were sold to Brandford for a total sum of $13,500,000. However, in court documents, Nandlall pointed out that a review of the transaction and similar transactions revealed that similar-sized parcels of land in the same vicinity were sold by the Government for as much as $150 million, more than ten times the price Brandford paid.
Taking this into consideration, Nandlall contended that the sale of the lands is illegal, unlawful, null, void, repugnant, contrary to public policy and amounts to fraud on the part of the Registrar of Lands. He is therefore asking the court to issue several orders and is claiming damages in excess of $500 million from former GL&SC Commissioner Trevor Benn and Chief Valuation Officer Julian Barrington.
Among the orders being sought by the Attorney General is an order compelling Brandford to gave up possession of the lands. According to Nandlall, the power to sell State lands is vested in the President under Section 3 (1) of the State Lands Act, and not Benn in his then capacity as Commissioner of GL&SC.
On March 23, 2020, Nandlall deposed that Benn, acting on behalf of the Government, illegally, unlawfully, and negligently entered into an Agreement of Sale and Purchase with Brandford. According to him, Benn sought no input from any other person or department within the GL&SC, nor was approval sought or obtained from the President to effect the sale to Brandford.
Nandlall complained that Benn abandoned all internal processes with respect to the sale of the State lands since there was no competitive bidding and the entire process was sanctioned entirely by him. Nandlall said that Barrington prepared, on the instructions of Benn in respect of the parcel of the property, a current market value stated at $60,800,000.
According to Nandlall, another valuation that was done with respect to the same property has a value of $13,500,000. He said that Benn negligently and in breach of his fiduciary duties, unlawfully and conspiratorially entered into the Agreement of Sale to sell the said property for $13,500,000.
“The price at which the property was sold by [Benn] to [Brandford] was at a gross undervalue and way below market price in relation to other properties within the same vicinity,” Nandlall argued. The Attorney General has submitted that Brandford replied upon his relationship with Benn and his position of influence he held on the Board of the GL&SC to secure a favourable transaction.
Against this backdrop, Nandlall is contending that Benn acted in collusion with Brandford and Barrington and as a result of their actions, the State was deprived of millions of dollars which resulted in a direct financial loss to the people of Guyana. Nandlall said that there is no reasonable excuse or justification for the execution of the Agreement of Sale and Purchase.
In February, Nandlall had written to Brandford requesting that he relinquish the undervalued lands he obtained a mere two weeks after the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections to avoid court action.
In a letter to Brandford, the Attorney General wrote the following: “In the interest of avoiding the institution of legal proceedings against you and without prejudice to the claims and remedies of legal proceedings against you, we are prepared to refund an appropriate sum of the money.”
Nandlall, in the letter, however, noted that the offer would be subjected to the condition that Brandford relinquishes all his purported rights, title, and interests to the parcel of lands over to the State. If he intended to accept the offer, the businessman was informed to contact the Commissioner of the GL&SC.
The Attorney General cautioned the businessman that if he failed to avail himself to this offer, civil proceedings would be instituted against him and documents would be transmitted to the Police for investigations.