…over Sanata Complex sale to QAII
Stay was granted for the matter involving charges of misconduct in public office laid against former Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh and former head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) Winston Brassington, stemming from the sale of the former Sanata Textiles Complex to Queens Atlantic Investment Inc (QAII).
Singh, 45, of Goedverwagting, East Coast Demerara, and Brassington, 50, of Cowan Street, Kingston, were both absent when the charge appeared before acting Chief Magistrate Sherdel Isaacs-Marcus in Georgetown on June 9, 2018. As a result, the charge, which alleges that the property was sold at a grossly undervalued price to QAII, was neither sworn to nor read.
Attorney Sase Gunraj who appeared before the defendants told this publication that despite stringent objections from representatives of the Attorney General Chambers, his arguments prevailed and the judge granted the stay pending the hearing and determination of the substantive action.
Gunraj said that he argued that a court had already granted stay of the other matters and this one was filed in his opinion very capriciously in the face of the other matters being stayed.
“Secondly, the charges that have been filed are almost identical to the other ones that was previously filed. Thirdly, the issue being canvased here are the same ones canvased and considered by Justice Holder in the previous case,” he added.
The attorney said the overarching consideration is the extreme prejudice it exposes his clients to.
Singh and Brassington are already before the courts on similar charges, but the charge for the sale of the Sanata Textiles Complex was filed without the knowledge of the two parties.
As a consequence, they were not in court to answer the charges when the matter came up before acting Chief Magistrate Sherdel Issacs-Marcus.
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 Queens Atlantic Investment Inc. 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, which was more than three times the Government valuation.
According to documents seen by this publication, upon Cabinet’s approval, QAII embarked on its promised programme and reclamation, 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 $832,753.5 million). NICIL also obtained on June 27, 2007, a valuation of the land and its improvements the Government’s Chief Valuation Officer of the Government, which came in at $245.175 million (land, $130 million; improvements $115.175 million).
QAII was responsible, at their expense, for the asbestos clean-up and removal of scrap alone, which they incurred at a cost above $400 million.
SOCU had previously brought charges against the two former Government officials in April. The two men were arraigned on charges of allegedly selling several plots of land on the East Coast of Demerara to National Hardware Guyana Ltd for over $598 million. In addition, the charge includes selling land to Scady Business Corporation at a cost of $150 million, and to Multi-cinemas Guyana Inc at a cost of $185 million.
Many political and social commentators, even those in the legal fraternity, have argued that the charges against the two former Government officials may be unconstitutional on the basis that they are not “public officers” in accordance with the Constitution.
Following these events, former Finance Minister Sasenarine Kowlessar, who served from 1999 to 2006, was taken in for questioning at SOCU’s Kingston, Georgetown head office, and was interrogated for close to five hours before being released on $200,000 station bail.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has said the decision to charge the duo for the sale of the lands, is nothing more than a “frivolous” attempt to keep a campaign promise made by the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) to jail members of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
“It is all frivolous… This Government campaigned on a promise that they will jail all of us when they get into power because we’re massively corrupt… We were told that we had assets that we were not declaring to the integrity Commission. We’re told that the People’s Progressive Party and its leaders had stolen so much money they couldn’t stash it in Guyana, they had to stash it abroad. These were the campaign. This was in the mouth of every person who spoke on the APNU platform. Jail, jail these people,” Jagdeo told the media last month.
Former Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh expressed confidence that the charges brought against him will be disposed of in the near future because he feels they are frivolous and have no bearing.