– Says no evidence was produced to prove true value of missing diamonds
THE seven-year-long trial for the 54M worth in diamonds, which vanished from police custody, came to an end on Monday (February 11, 2019) as Justice Fidela Corbin-Lincoln ruled that Ronald Khan, owner of the diamonds, be awarded $5 million, and $200,000 cost from the State.
This case was brought to the High Court by Khan, who said that the diamonds were in police custody as evidence in a criminal trial, and he was never given back the merchandise after the trial and investigations were concluded.
In 1994, there was an incident that occurred at his mining operation site in the Ewang River, Potaro-Siparuni, where two persons were killed– his brother and another miner. He was also robbed of what he said was 430 carats of diamonds, worth $54 million. Khan explained that he had several scales which he used to weigh his diamonds to arrive at an accurate measurement.
The day after the incident, he was taken from the hospital to the Mahdia Police Station to identify the men who robbed him and murdered the two men. Khan said the diamonds were retrieved from the criminals and he witnessed the police officers weighing the diamonds and verified the amount and its worth.
The police then lodged the diamonds as evidence in the trial of the two men he would have identified.
After that was done, he said that the officers transported the items from Mahdia to the ‘E’ and ‘F’ Divisions of the Guyana Police Force.
To date, he has never again seen the diamonds that were retrieved and lodged.
The State had argued on several submissions, the main one being that the minerals retrieved might not have been diamonds and there was no actual evidence confirming whether or not they were, and the true value.
In that regard, Justice Corbin-Lincoln said that Mr Khan’s evidence was that he was a miner since 1950, and he gave evidence of his decades of experience in the gold and diamond industry. The judge said that she had no hesitation in accepting his evidence that it was indeed diamonds.
In addition to that, the judge said that one of the charges proffered against the accused was robbery under arms; of a quantity of diamonds.
“The police themselves are taken to have been satisfied that the ‘stones’ were in fact diamonds, before proffering the charge. Therefore, I accept the evidence of Mr. Khan that it was diamonds that were stolen, retrieved and detained by the police,” Justice Corbin-Lincoln said.
Another point the State argued was the issue of limitations. In its submissions, the State pointed out that the action filed by Khan was statute-barred, as it contravenes provisions of the Limitation Act.
“Every action and suit for any movable property, or upon any contract, bargain, or agreement relating to movable property, or to recover money lent without written acknowledgment or upon any account or book debt, or to recover any salary or the value of any goods sold and delivered, shall be brought within three years next after the cause of action or suit has arisen,” Section Six of the Act states.
Since the robbery of Khan’s mining camp occurred in 1994, the State advanced that he should have commenced civil proceedings to recover his property anytime within the three years therefrom.
However, citing several cases and excerpts from law author, John D. Fleming in ‘The Law of Tort’, the judge said the claim of detinue was established. Time for the purpose of the limitation act, therefore, begins to run from the time the cause of action arises, she said. The case was filed on January 4th, 2011.
With that, the judge said that “I find the matter is not barred by statute, as the tort of detinue was established. Having found that there was a detention, a demand, and they have not been returned in a reasonable time of demand, or at all, and there is no lawful reason for the continued detention of the diamonds, I am satisfied that the tort of detinue be established.”
With the issue of assessing the quantity and value of the diamonds, the evidence of Khan was that at the time of robbery, he had 430 carats of diamonds. He explained why it was 430 carats, and he valued it at 54 million dollars.
Justice Corbin-Lincoln said “I found Mr. Khan to be a credible witness, whose evidence was not shaken under cross-examination. There’s no evidence led which disputes his evidence. I, therefore, accept that there were 430 carats of diamonds. However, Khan, who has the burden of proof, led no evidence of the current value of the 430 carats of diamonds. There is therefore no evidence before the court in relation to the current value of the 430 carats of diamonds. In the absence of such evidence, it is open to the court to make no award of damages.”
However, after citing several cases, the presiding judge said that the court can substitute an award that is justifiable. It is clear that Khan has suffered loss of his property, the judge said, but research shows that there is no fixed price to raw or uncut diamonds, and there is no evidence with respect to the quality of diamonds.
It was against that backdrop that Justice Corbin-Lincoln awarded Khan a sum of $5M.
Speaking with the elderly man after exiting the court room, he told the Guyana Chronicle that he was disappointed with the amount that the judge granted.
He said that he would have worked hard to earn those diamonds, and they were snatched away from him, along with the life of his closest brother, and a worker of his. Khan said the men who raided his camp that night had to know that the diamonds were valuable.
Nonetheless, he said he understands the judge’s ruling.