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Despite Commission of Inquiry, State to continue prosecuting criminal charges against ex GECOM officials, others

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 June 2022, 9:42 by Denis Chabrol

A statement of poll being posted outside a polling station at St. Ambrose Primary School, Alberttown, Georgetown. Looking on is an APNU candidate. (file picture)

Shadow Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Attorney-at-Law Roysdale Forde said the persons charged with electoral fraud would have to decide their next step in light of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the 2020 general and regional elections.

“There are persons charged who will decide on what is in there best interest. Every consideration will be taken into account to determine what are the best steps to be taken,” he told Demerara Waves when asked whether efforts would be made to block the start of the Commission of Inquiry which was announced on Tuesday.

Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes, who is representing then Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield, then Deputy Chief Election Officer Roxanne Myers and then Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo, said he and has clients would by weekend decide their next move.

State Prosecutor, Attorney-at-Law Dharshan Ramdhani said he had no intention of curtailing the criminal cases that are being heard by a number of magistrates. “We are prosecuting criminal charges and we will continue to deal with those matters in the courts before three magistrates so far and we will press on,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.  Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo on Wednesday said he was unaware that the State would be asking for a halt to the criminal trials to make way for the COI. “The State is not, as far as I know, is not going to ask that the charges against Lowenfield be dropped. There is no such intention that I know of,” he said.

In other countries, legal experts say that those facing criminal charges may refuse to testify before a COI. Guyana’s Commission of Inquiry Act makes no reference to existing criminal cases, but says a person giving evidence before the commission shall not be compelled to criminate himself.

PPP representatives in the room at the Region Four Returning Office where the verification of Statements of Poll is being conducted

Mr Forde hoped that the relevant parties would find an accommodation among the COI, the criminal cases and the election petition appeal cases that are before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).  “It will be expected that in view of the obvious conflict that the establishment of the COI would be a consultative process. This COI is not into a non contentious matter it is into a very political and contentious political matter,” he said.

Mr Forde noted that the establishment of the COI is a political decision taken by a political party which contested the elections and whose candidate has since assumed the presidency which would call into question the decision. “The COI has therefore started off as a still birth incapable of hereafter delivering any outcome that can be seen as potentially or remotely credible,” he said.

He reasoned that it is very likely that the COI would have a negative impact on the judicial process governing the election petition. “It seems that the COI has been established to deliberately thwart the election petition proceedings,” he said.

Mr. Forde’s opposition coalition of A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change has filed two election petitions which are now the subject of appeals.

Also charged in connection with electoral fraud are senior People’s National Congress Reform members Volda Lawrence and Carol Smith-Joseph as well as two other GECOM officials.

A Guyana Police Force truck with the several boxes of Statements of Poll and Statements of Recount that were presented as evidence by the State in electoral fraud cases

President Irfaan Ali on Tuesday announced that the commissioners are Chairman of the COI – Retired Justice of  Appeal Stanley John; Former Attorney General, High Court Judge and Acting Justice of Appeal in the Eastern Caribbean, Godfrey P. Smith SC; Former Chair and Chief Elections Commissioner of India, Dr S. Y. Quraishi; and, Former Chancellor (ag), Carl Singh OR   CCH.

To assist the Commission with its work, Dr Afari Gyan and Dr Nasim Zaidi will serve as resource personnel.

“In the coming weeks, the intended Commissioners and resource personnel will review the reports and documentation, set out modalities and commence work,” the President said.