Piarco inquiry to restart, judge rules in favour of the accused

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Piarco inquiry to restart, judge rules in favour of the accused

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.

Accused of Fraud: Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson

But those involved – for­mer Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bri­an Kuei Tung, busi­ness­men Steve Fer­gu­son and Ish­war Gal­barans­ingh, Pe­ter Cateau and Ty­rone Gopee – challenged the decision.

Fmr. Minister of Trade, Industry and Tourism, Brian Kuei Tung

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.