by Gary Eleazar and Denis Chabrol
Even as Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan on Wednesday expressed partial satisfaction with the work of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) in probing alleged financial crimes committed during the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) administration, a trial into alleged fraud at the New Guyana Marketing Corporation (NGMC) saw the absence of several witnesses.
In the end, two prosecution witnesses testified Wednesday against former NGMC General Manager, Nizam Hassan who is accused of approving payments for substandard rehabilitation of the NGMC’s building at Robb and Alexander Streets, Bourda, Georgetown. Also appearing in court was co-accused Felicia De Souza-Madramootoo, the wife of former Ministry of Agriculture engineer, Hanniel Madramootoo.
After National Drainage and Irrigation Authority civil engineer Inniss testified during the morning session, Prosecutor Alvin Moore was told to call more witnesses but none of them responded to calls inside and outside the courtroom for them to appear. They included Frederick Flatts, George Jervis, Dindyal Permaul and Paul Chung; Assistant Superintendent of Police, Trevor Reid; Detective Sergeant Frank, Lance Corporal Moonilall Persaud, Rohit Persaud, Balram Singh and Anthony Ameerali.
Chief Magistrate, Ann Mc Lennan asked Prosecutor Alvin Moore “you called all the names of the witnesses?,” he responded, saying “they are not here.” “How you know they are not here?” asked the magistrate, even as she urged him to call the names of more witnesses.
The plan, she said, is to examine three witnesses each day.
In all, more than 30 witnesses are listed to testify but only four have so far appeared. The last was NGMC Accountant, Owen Nestor in the afternoon session who detailed that GYD$10 million were allocated for the rehabilitation of the building and that Hassan had told him to process payments, based on payment certificates, and deliver the cheques to Project Officer Ashraf Ally when he arrived to uplift them on behalf of Constantine Construction and Engineering.
Before the end of Nestor’s testimony, Defence Lawyer Glenn Hanoman told the court that the police witnesses should have been in court to tender the documents. Prosecutor Deniro Jones said the policeman was ill.
Hanoman also said defence lawyers were not in possession of the relevant statements that the prosecution was referring to in court.
Ramjattan partly satisfied with SOCU’s work
Following the public buzz that engulfed the high profile arrests and recent questioning of several key PPP investigators at the Guyana Police Force’s SOCU, Minister of Public Security Ramjattan, has reported that the files are now with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and other legal advisors who will be taking the decisions on any charges to be laid.
Ramjattan was at the time speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a press engagement to launch the 41st anniversary activities for Community Policing in Guyana at the Ministry of Public Security’s conference room.
He was at the time lauding the work of SOCU especially in light of the quantum of work and was asked to respond to why none has been charged and placed before the courts following the high profile arrests.
According to Ramjattan, it is for the legal advisors and the DPP to decide on the future course of actions, since the file have been forwarded to those offices.
The Minister with responsibility for the Public Security Sector told reporters SOCU is currently overwhelmed by the quantum of investigative work to be done as a result of the number of Forensic Audits that had been ordered into a number of state run agencies by the incoming coalition government in 2015.
The Minister with responsibility for the Guyana Police Force told media operatives the there are simply too many investigations underway for the current staff at SOCU and that the administration was looking to recruit quality ranks into the unit.
Ramjattan said he is “very satisfied with what SOCU has been doing but there can be room for more satisfaction.”
The PPP’s leadership has complained bitterly of political interference by the administration in the operations of SOCU, a charge Ramjattan continues to deny.
Former President, Bharrat Jagdeo, former Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr. Roger Luncheon and the daughter of former President, Donald Ramotar- Lisaveta Ramotar, among other former government officials, were all arrested and questioned in connection with their acquisition of housing lands at Goedverwagting-Sparendaam (Pradoville 2), East Coast Demerara.
The Forensic Audits total 49, and excepting for 5, namely, the Lotto Fund, CPHA (2), Lethem Power Company, National Sports Commission, and the Demerara Harbour Bridge, all have been completed and the results have so far confirmed these allegations of corruption and maladministration.
Also questioned so far in connection with the allocation of lands at Pradoville 2, either as decision-makers or as beneficiaries, include former government ministers Irfaan Ali, Priya Manickchand and Robert Persaud as well as former directors of the National Communications Network Board, Dr. Nankishore Gopaul and Kwame Mc Coy, as well as the former CEO of Guyana Water Incorporated, Shaikh Baksh among others.