Trumped up charges… Jagdeo slams political pressure on prosecutorial agencies

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Former Public Service Minister, Dr Jennifer Westford leaves the courtroom after her charges were dismissed

With the case against former Public Service Minister, Dr Jennifer Westford thrown out of the courts following a no case submission, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has now broken his silence on the matter.

According to the former President at his recent press conference, much of the commentary has been centred in the case being dismissed by Magistrate Judy Latchman because it was “bad in law.” He pointed out the wider picture.

“The Magistrate declared two things. Everyone has been focusing on the first, that the charge is bad in law. But what the Magistrate found, from the news reports, is that the evidence did not support the charges. Because of the witnesses, almost all of them said they don’t remember whether the training activities took place in the region,” Jagdeo recalled.

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo

“One of them actually said yes, there was training in the region. And the money was supposed to be used for training and other activities in the region. So the Magistrate said, not just that the charges were bad in law, but that the witnesses did not support the charges. How come we’re missing that part?”

Jagdeo also commented on Junior Finance Minister Jaipaul Sharma’s public criticism of State prosecutorial agencies and his questioning of the Prosecutor, Natasha Backer, bringing witnesses that could not support her case.

“And then to have a person like Sharma, he’s pushing this. I’ve never seen Sharma talk this much about corruption, individually. What does he have to say about Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson? What does he have to say about the five other Ministers there that the DPP withdrew (charges against)? Was that bad, that the DPP withdrew (the) cases?”

Junior Finance Minister Jaipaul Sharma

Jagdeo reminded that Sharma himself awarded the forensic audits to different agencies back in 2015, all without any public tender. He noted that as a politician, Sharma should allow the technical personnel to do their job and not apply his ministerial influence to pressure them.

“Sharma? He’s the last person to talk about reopening charges. And it’s a politician saying this! Why don’t they allow the technical agencies to assess whether there is really a case to be made and do that? Imagine it’s a politician advocating for this.”

 

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The case

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Westford and her former Administrative Assistant, Margaret Cummings, were freed on August 24, 2018, of a $600 million larceny charge. The duo were before the court on an allegation that they had stolen over $600 million from the Government of Guyana while they were employed at the Public Service Ministry.

In 2016, Westford and Cummings were each placed on $4.8 million bail by Magistrate Judy Latchman, after denying 24 charges which alleged that they had stolen over $639 million while being employed in public office. The prosecution had contended that the money was stolen between October 19, 2011 and April 28, 2015. The prosecution also contended that the monies were requested to conduct outreaches in the 10 administrative regions of Guyana.

The team of attorneys that represented the duo comprised Dexter Todd, Keisha Chase, Rexford McKay, Neil Boston, Eusi Anderson, Bibi Shaddick and Brandon Glasford. In court on Friday, Magistrate Latchman upheld the no-case submission made by Attorney Dexter Todd; and in handing down her decision noted that the charges were bad in law, as Westford, according to the Guyana Constitution, was a Government Minister and not a public officer.

With respect to Cummings, who was a public officer, the Magistrate said there was insufficient evidence for a conviction. She added that there was no evidence to show that the money was taken and not used for its intended purposes. A total of 48 witnesses had been called during the trial.

 

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