Fifteen years later, and the preliminary inquiry into the fraud charges stemming from the construction of the $1.6 billion Piarco International Airport will be restarted.
The decision comes after Senior Magistrate Ejenny Espinet retired last year with the preliminary inquiry still pending before him. Although he was able to see the case through to an advanced state, it is still incomplete pending further inquiries.
In 2018, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) sought to call upon Section 23(8) of the Indictable Offences (Preliminary Enquiry) Act 2005 to have the charges levelled against the accused filed in the High Court without the preliminary inquiry. The DPP’s Office can call for such a decision in the event a judge has heard evidence, which discloses a prima facie case, but does not conclude the inquiry due to a number of issues including resignation, retirement or death.
But those involved – former Finance Minister Brian Kuei Tung, businessmen Steve Ferguson and Ishwar Galbaransingh, Peter Cateau and Tyrone Gopee – challenged the decision.
Yesterday, High Court Judge Devindra Rampersad ruled in the favour of the group, stating that the legislation contained a clause that states that the law only had effect after September 2005. Rampersad ruled that the case began in 2004, since the men were first charged and taken to court that year.
During his 45-page judgement Rampersad said, “Any other interpretation would be to render the administrative or case management steps as existing in limbo without any statutory underpinning as to powers and jurisdiction. There is nothing unduly complex with respect to this finding.”
The Judge said it is unclear whether the legislation was meant to be retrospective but said it is obvious that the Parliament would agree with his ruling. Rampersad also prevented the DPP from using the Indictable Offences (Preliminary Enquiry) Act 2005 in its case against the group and prevented the accused from standing trial unless a new preliminary inquiry is launched. To top it off, the State has to pay the group’s legal fees.
DPP Roger Gaspard, SC, said his office is still uncertain about what legal action to take to respond to the Judge’s ruling.