…Court of Appeal throws out application to stay proceedings
…as opposition presidential candidate faces 19 fraud charges
APPEAL Court Judge, Dawn Gregory, on Friday, denied People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Presidential Candidate, Irfaan Ali, a stay of proceedings in his $174M ‘Pradoville’ land sales case, which is ongoing in the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court.
The appeal was filed by Ali’s attorney, Anil Nandlall and associates, following Justice Franklin Holder’s ruling. Justice Holder had denied a stay of proceedings when the matter was placed before the High Court, challenging the legality of the charges.
Ali, at the time, was seeking an order of prohibition restraining the Chief Magistrate, Ann McLennan, or any other magistrate from hearing or attempting to hear the charges as filed by the corporal; and a declaration that the particulars of the charges do not constitute an offence known to law and one that there is no statutory or common-law duty to obtain a valuation prior to the sale of property.
Both the Appeal Court and the High Court ruled that the magisterial court has jurisdiction to hear the 19 charges against Ali for allegedly conspiring to defraud the state.
Ali, will have to return before the Chief Magistrate, Ann McLennan, at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court on Monday August 26, 2019 for report on the charges.
The charges read that between 2010 and 2015, Ali conspired with persons unknown to defraud the Government of Guyana when he acted recklessly in presenting the value of 19 plots of state land situated at Plantation Sparendaam and Goedverwagting, East Coast Demerara, and sold the said lands at a grossly undervalued price without first obtaining a valuation to determine the true value of the lands.
Ali is accused of defrauding the state of over $174M after selling the lands at undervalued prices. The former minister of housing is accused of selling the lands to former President Bharrat Jagdeo; former Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon; and former ministers Priya Manickchand, Dr. Jennifer Westford, Robert Persaud and Clement Rohee; Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack, and former army head, Gary Best and Fortune Developers Inc., Guyana.
He also sold lands at the locations to former General Manager of the Guyana Gold Board and daughter of former President, Donald Ramotar, Lisa Ramotar; former President of the Private Sector Commission, Ramesh Dookhoo; the son of former Labour Minister, Dr. Nanda Gopaul; Dr. Ghansham Singh; former Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Chief
Executive Officer, Rajendra Singh; former president of the Caribbean Development Bank, Compton Bourne; Andrew Bishop, former Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission; former Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Water Inc. (GWI) Shaik Baksh; Safraaz Khan and George Hallaq.
Ali is being represented by attorneys-at-law Anil Nandlall, Priya Manickchand, Jaya Manickchand, Sase Gunraj, and David Kissoon. Special Organised Crime Unit Prosecutor, Patrice Henry, is representing the State.
The controversial ‘Pradoville Two’ issue came to the fore when the coalition government commenced several investigations into suspicious financial transactions of state officials that bordered or amounted to corrupt practices and/or abuse of office. It was found that several persons close to the last government had received prime seafront lands belonging to the State at extraordinarily low cost.
It was reported that the ‘Pradoville’ recipients, the majority of whom held very high positions within private or State organisations, received and later built posh or luxury homes on the properties after paying as little as $114 per square foot; citizens, on the other hand, were being made to pay as much as $500 per square foot for ordinary land.
The ‘Pradoville’ arrangement was made during the PPP’s term of office, 2010-2015. Ali was the housing minister during that period.
Jagdeo’s property is easily the largest plot of land with the biggest mansion, equipped with a pool and other amenities.
The ‘Pradoville Two’ matter became even more controversial when it was related that taxpayers’ money was used to develop the land and remove a transmitter belonging to the National Communications Network at a cost of around $100M to develop the scheme for the prominent persons going to live there.
There was even greater controversy surrounding the seafront properties, since there was no advertising of the state lands and it appeared that all the recipients who got property were handpicked by the then government.
In September 2010, parcels of land each measuring 0.3030 of an acre were sold to Robert Persaud, Shaik Baksh, Clement Rohee, Lisa Ramotar, Dr. Compton Bourne and Priya Manickchand for GUY$1.5M.
Jagdeo purchased two acres for 9.8M and Jennifer Westford bought 0.3186 of an acre for GUY$1.5; Ghansham Singh paid GUY$1,502,000 for 0.3005 of an acre; Andrew Bishop, Roger Luncheon, Rajendra Singh, Safraz Khan, and Ramesh Dookhoo each purchased 0.3005 of an acre for GUY$1.5M.
George Hallaq and Nada Hallaq each paid GUY$5M for 0.8422 of an acre, and Future Developers International (Guyana) Inc., whose sole director is Dr. Rajendra Singh, purchased 0.5534 of an acre for GUY$3M.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Shalimar Hack paid GUY$1.4M for 0.2767 of an acre, and former Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Gary Best, paid GUY$1.5M for 0.3005 an acre.
In 2018 former finance minister under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) administration, Dr. Ashni Singh; and former National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Winston Brassington, were charged with five counts of misconduct in public office, contrary to public law.
The charges related to the selling of state-owned land to Queens Atlantic, National Hardware Guyana Limited, Scady Business Corporation and Multi-Cinemas Guyana Inc.
One of the forensic audit reports on the operations of NICIL suggests that under the PPP administration, NICIL engaged in malpractices and had made poor decisions on behalf of the people of Guyana.
The audit, which was conducted by former Auditor General, Anand Goolsarran, had recommended criminal and/or disciplinary action against all those responsible for the interception of state revenues totalling $26.858B, in violation of the constitution. Goolsarran had said that several laws were broken.