Following the indefinite suspension of the Magistrates’ Courts proceedings involving former Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh and former National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) Head, Winston Brassington, the High Court challenge continued on Monday where acting Chief Justice Roxanne George, consolidated the four ‘misconduct in public office’ charges into one substantive challenge.
After the in-chamber hearing, Brassington’s attorney Sase Gunraj explained that the decision of the judge to consolidate the case means that the judge will hear all the matters together as the charges are all similar in nature. The applicants received an affidavit in answer from the Attorney General’s Chambers and Gunraj said that his side will reply if necessary.
The cases return to court again on August 29 for report where acting Chief Justice could set out a date for decision after she hears what the attorney described as ‘enlarged arguments’.
The fourth charge, which Justice George included relates to the sale of the Sanata Textiles Complex to Queens Atlantic Investment Inc.
Dr Singh, of Goedverwagting, East Coast Demerara, and Brassington, of Florida, USA, are accused of selling various properties at prices the State contends were grossly undervalued.
Following the charges being laid, Singh and Brassington appeared in the Magistrates’ Courts. Their lawyers subsequently challenged the charges in the High Court.
They were granted an interim stay by Justice Franklyn Holder.
In April, the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) brought charges against the two former Government officials for allegedly selling several plots of land on the East Coast of Demerara to National Hardware Guyana Ltd for over $598 million.
Other charges include selling land to Scady Business Corporation at a cost of $150 million, and to Multi-cinemas Guyana Inc at a cost of $185 million.
The two men were released on $6M bail each but their attorneys were granted stays of execution as the High Court hears legal challenges against SOCU’s charges.
With regards to the Sanata case, the charge alleges that Singh and Brassington, while performing the duties of Finance Minister and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NICIL respectively, between October 26 and December 20, 2010, 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.
According to documents seen by this publication, upon Cabinet’s approval, QAII embarked on its reclamation programme, clean-up and investment. On May 30, 2007, QAII had requested and received a valuation of the property from the Government Assistant Valuation Officer, which proposed $330.375 million (land $269.200 million; improvements $119.175 million).
On June 7, 2018, NICIL had commissioned a valuation from the private firm of Rodrigues Architects Ltd, which posited that the property be valued at $1,042,403,500 (land $209.650 million; improvements $832.753 million). NICIL also obtained on June 27, 2007, a valuation of the land and its improvements from the Government’s Chief Valuation Officer, which came in at $245.175 million (land, $130 million; improvements $115.175 million). QAII was responsible, at its own expense, for the asbestos clean-up and removal of scrap, which alone incurred a cost of above $400 million.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has said the decision to charge the duo for the sale of the lands was nothing more than a “frivolous” attempt to keep the campaign promise made by the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) to jail members of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
Former Finance Minister Singh expressed that the charges brought against him would be disposed of in the near future, because of his belief that they were frivolous and had no bearing.