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Govt moves to repossess land from Car Care’s Brandford

Last Updated on Sunday, 7 March 2021, 16:57 by Denis Chabrol

Attorney General, Anil Nandlall has moved to the High Court to repossess a plot of land at Plantation Ruimveldt, East Bank Demerara because it was allegedly obtained unlawfully, illegally and by fraud.

The land was sold for GYD$13.5 million based on a second valuation, although the first valuation showed that it was valued at GYD$60.8 million. The Attorney General said, based on the value of land in the same vicinity, the State believes that the actual value of the land is GYD$150 million.

“The cumulative effect of the actions of the Defendants was to harm the national patrimony of Guyana and to cause severe financial loss to the people and Government of Guyana,” the Attorney General states.

The Attorney General wants the High Court to order the return of the property to the State and for disgorgement of any monies paid by Mr. Brandford.

In addition to the owner of Car Care, Wilfred Brandford, the former Commissioner/Chief Executive Officer of Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission Trevor Benn and the acting Chief Valuation Officer of the Ministry of Finance’s  Valuation Division Julian Barrington and the Registrar of Lands have been named in the case.

“The Second Named Defendant sought no input from any other person or department within the Guyana Lands and Survey Commission nor was approval sought or obtained from the President to effect the sale of the property to the First named Defendant,”the Attorney General states in reference to Mr. Benn.

The Attorney General wants the High Court to find that the Certificate of Title No. 2020/1111 dated the 15th day of April, 2020 for Parcels 4725 and 4805, Block XXX, Plantation Ruimveldt  is illegal, unlawful, null, void, repugnant and contrary to public policy. Similarly, he wants the Court to nullify the agreement of sale Agreement of Sale dated the 23rd of March, 2020 between Mr. Brandford and Mr. Benn on similar grounds.

The Attorney General is contending that Mr. Benn was never legally authorised by the President to sell lands as that function was never delegated to him through the Delegation of Functions Order 9 of 2016 dated the 9th day of June 2016. That order states that “the Commissioner of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission is hereby deputed to exercise on behalf of the President the functions relating to the sanctioning of renting and granting leases, licences, and permission of occupancy of all Public Lands (government lands under the meaning of the Lands Department Act and State Lands Act under the meaning of the State Lands Act), conferred on the President by the Lands Department Act and the State Lands Act respectively.”

Mr. Nandlall notes that December 13, 2016, Car Care was permitted to occupy the land and that was followed by a 50-year lease dated April 2, 2019. There is no indication that the First Named Defendant (Mr. Brandford) expressed an interest in purchasing the property in question nor was there any such promise or assurance given to the First Named Defendant in any of the earlier instruments executed by the First and Second Named Defendants,” said the Attorney General in court papers released to the media.

Mr. Nandlall further states that Mr. benn abandoned all internal processes with respect to the sale of State Lands. In consequence thereof, there was no competitive bidding and the entire process was sanctioned entirely by him in violation of the provisions of the State Lands Act, Cap. 62:01.

According to the State, the Chief Valuation Officer was instructed to provide a valuation to then Lands and Surveys Commissioner and the Certificate of Valuation dated 13th January 2020.

That certificate states that the market value was GYD$60.8 million, the purpose of the valuation, according to the State,  was “to estimate the current value of the said herein lot that guide the Commissioner of Lands with regards to removing the prohibited condition on the lease as requested by the owner.”

Two months later, a second valuation was done at Mr. Benn’s request and the value was given as GYD$13.5 million, according to the State’s court papers. The Attorney General alleged that “in breach of his fiduciary duties, unlawfully and conspiratorially entered into the Agreement of Sale to sell the said property for GYD$13.5 million.

“The Second Named Defendant deliberately failed and/or neglected to consider the first valuation which was a significantly higher price and proceeded to effect the sale at the lower value,” Mr.Nandlall said.

The Attorney General noted that a a review of that and similar transactions shows that similarly sized parcels of land in the  vicinity of the property in question were sold by the Guyana government for as much as GYD$150 million more than ten times the price paid by Mr. Brandford.

Mr. Nandlall alleged that that fact was within the peculiar knowledge or ought to have been within the peculiar knowledge of both the Mr. Brandford and Mr. Benn as they both served as members on the Board of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission.

The Attorney General said that act by the two “was reckless, negligent, unlawful, in breach of fiduciary duty and constituted a fraud causing the State of Guyana to suffer loss and damage.”

The State wants the High Court to award GYD$100 million against Mr. Benn and the acting Chief Valuation Officer for loss and damage suffered as a result of alleged negligence and/or breach of the duty of care owed to the State of Guyana; GYD$100 million for loss and damage suffered as a result of alleged conspiracy and/or breach of the duty of care owed to the State of Guyana by the Mr. Benn and the acting Chief Valuation Officer; GYD$100 million for loss and damage suffered as a result of alleged breach of fiduciary duty owed to the State of Guyana by Mr. Benn; GYD$100 million damages  for alleged misfeasance in public office committed by the Second Named Defendant; GYD$100 million for loss and damage suffered as a result of fraud allegedly committed by the First, Second and Third named Defendants.