Charges to be laid soon

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– as SOCU about to wrap up ‘Pradoville 2’ probe

WITHIN days, charges are expected to be instituted against persons fingered in the Sparendaam Housing Project AKA Pradoville Two, land scam, according to a well-placed source.

The Guyana Chronicle understands that investigations into the housing project are near completion, and that charges could be laid as early as next week.

Since last year, the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) has been investigating the suspicious financial transactions of state officials that bordered on, or amounted to, corrupt practices and/or abuse of office while under the former People’s Progressive Party (PPP) administration’s watch.

The investigations are based on a Forensic Audit which found that several persons close to the last government had received prime seafront property belonging to the state at extraordinarily low cost.

When contacted on Friday, SOCU Head Sydney James told the Guyana Chronicle that the Pradoville Two file was with the Police Legal Adviser, Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh, but was returned to SOCU for additional work.

“We have been directed to do some additional work, which should be completed next week,” James told this newspaper.

He said that once completed, the file will be sent back to the Police Legal Adviser, and it is she who would determine whether charges will be laid or not. Justice Singh, when contacted by this newspaper, declined to comment.

Last March, former President now Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, along with several former ministers of the PPP/C government and party representatives were arrested and questioned by SOCU in relation to the alleged Pradoville Two land scam.

PUT SYSTEMS IN PLACE
The State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU) had recommended that Attorney-General Basil Williams put systems in place to facilitate charges of “misconduct in public office” being laid against Jagdeo and five ministers of the former administration, namely: Agriculture Minister, Robert Persaud; Public Service Minister, Dr Jennifer Westford; Education Minister, Priya Manickchand; Labour Minister, Dr Nanda Kishore Gopaul; and Home Affairs Minister, Clement Rohee.

It was in 2016 that the Ministry of Finance handed over the final reports of the forensic audits done on the Pradoville 2 (Special Investigation of the Central Housing and Planning Authority) to the Guyana Police Force (GPF), thereby paving the way for the criminal investigations to be opened in the matter. The case was, in 2017, handed over to SOCU.
The APNU+AFC Government has long indicated that those found culpable of wrongdoing with respect to the sale of lands at the Pradoville 2 Housing Project should be prosecuted.
Forensic audits done on the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) had revealed that some $257M was spent on developing Pradoville 2, and that the value of land there should have been $82.8M per acre, instead of the significantly less sum for which an acre was sold.

According to the audit report: “Instead of accumulating all the costs associated with the Sparendaam Project — including the market value of the land — in a special account to be applied in arriving at the price to be charged per house lot, NICIL’s board and Cabinet were complicit in charging the related costs of $257.049M to NCN in the form of equity investment, and to CH&PA in the form of receivables.

“The fact that several key Cabinet members are the beneficiaries of the house lots renders it highly inappropriate for the very Cabinet to approve of the charging of the expenditure to the accounts of NCN and CH&PA.”

The report, which was released by the Ministry of Finance, said the use of “a conservative estimate of $985M for the 2009 market valuation of the land on which the Marriott has been constructed prior to infrastructure being undertaken on a similar size land (makes) the total value of the Sparendaam project work out to $1.242B or $82.8M per acre.

“This figure should have been used to compute the price per lot. It is not clear: (a) how many lots are involved, and their respective sizes; (b) the basis under which the recipients were selected; (c) how the price of approximately $1.5M per lot was determined; and (d) which entity — NICIL or CH&PA — received the proceeds from the sale of the plots.”