Registrar of Deeds arraigned on fraud charge

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Azeena Baksh  pleaded not guilty to the charge

The pregnant Registrar of the Deeds Registry was on Tuesday morning arraigned at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court before Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan on a fraud charge.

Azeena Baksh, 33, pleaded not guilty to the charge which stated that while being employed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) between May 1, 2014 and January 31, 2017 in Georgetown caused or procured valuable securities in the sum of GYD$4.5 million to be delivered to her Bank of Novia Scotia account for her own use pretending she was a contracted employee at the Deeds Registry.

Bail application was made by Baksh’s Attorney, Nigel Hughes on the grounds that she was in her final trimester of pregnancy and doctors recommended that she take bed rest. He also sought to convince the court that she was cooperating with investigators.

McLennan granted bail in the sum of $250,000 and Baksh is expected to return to court on June 6 2017.

In April of 2017, the Legal Affairs Ministry had disclosed that the Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority had requested an investigation to be launched into financial irregularities into Baksh’s payroll documentations.

The Legal Affairs Ministry, which is headed under incumbent Attorney General Basil Williams, SC, outlined that Baksh “allegedly unlawfully paid herself a higher salary than was approved by the JSC.”

Upon her appointment as the Deeds Registrar in 2012, Baksh received $326,171 monthly, as well as duty, entertainment and house allowances among many other benefits. This was approved by the JSC.

The Legal Affairs Ministry asserted however, that Baksh increased her payment 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.

However, the Deeds Registrar who communicated through her lawyer, Nigel Hughes, denied the allegations noting that “pursuant to the issuance of the Cabinet memo, the staff of the Deeds and Commercial Registry were written to by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Legal Affairs on the 19th May, 2014, providing them with two options, either refuse the offer of employment with the Deeds and Commercial Registry and be transferred to another Government Ministry or Department, or accept employment with the deeds and Commercial Registry and receive severance under the termination and severance Act.”

Hughes also said that Baksh “does not have the authority to direct the Human Resource Department or the Finance Department, to make any payment of salaries; these departments report to the governing board of the Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority; nor has she ever authorized the Human Resource Department to place any member of the Deeds and Commercial Registry on the payroll.”

Inews had reported that the Head of the Human Resources Department of the Deeds and Commercial Registry circulated a memo- seen by this online publication- instructing staff to stop reporting to Baksh and to report to the Deputy Registrar – who was listed as Acting Registrar- instead.

The memo referred to a meeting held with the AG, where it was further directed that Baksh not be signing off on any official documents for or on behalf of the Authority as the Deputy Registrar will be doing so.

It was also revealed that following the meeting with the AG, a decision was taken to send Baksh on administrative leave. However, she is said to be on medical leave presently due to complications from ill health. Reports have also indicated that the locks on Baksh’s office have been changed so as to not allow her entry upon her return from leave.

Following this disclosure, Former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall asserted his belief that the lawyer- Baksh-  is being harassed and hounded simply because of her race, sexuality and associations to the People’s Progressive Party.

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