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Lawyer: Repeal won’t mean Ish and Steve will face trial in T&T
Government’s decision to convene Parliament today to repeal Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011 does not mean that businessmen Ishwar Galbaransigh and Steve Ferguson will face trial in the local courts. In fact, repealing the section could present the accused with other legal avenues in the High Court to either deem the repeal unconstitutional or the men may argue they had a legitimate expectation.
So said Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes in a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian yesterday. He said: “If Parliament repeals the contentious Section 34, it would only have an effect on the pending applications if the repeal is made to apply retroactively. “If that is done, further legal questions would arise, such as whether their existing legal right to apply to be discharged is infringed and whether Parliament is usurping the judiciary’s power to adjudicate on the applications.”
The businessmen, reputed financiers of the United National Congress (UNC), are charged with former finance minister Brian Kuei-Tung; former works minister Sadiq Baksh; former chairmen of the Airports Authority Tyrone Gopee and Ameer Edoo; former client representative in the Ministry of Works at the airport project Peter Cateau and financial director Amrith Maharaj for conspiring to obtain contracts and payments totaling $1.6 billion during the construction of the new airport.
Kuei Tung, Russell Huggins, Maritime executives John Smith, Ferguson and Barbara Gomes, Galbaransingh and Maharaj; and businesswoman Renee Pierre face charges of conspiring to convert more than $19 million under false pretences from the Airports Authority. Former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and his wife Oma are also charged with corruptly receiving $250,000 from Galbaransingh and former Minister Carlos John on December 30, 1998. Galbaransingh and John also face charges.
Following the proclamation of the Act, Galbaransingh, Ferguson, Maharaj, Kuei Tung, Eddoo, Gomes, Smith, John, Northern Construction Limited and Maritime petitioned the High Court to have their fraud matters dismissed. Asked if the United States can re-apply for their extradition if the men were to be successful in their matters in the local courts, Douglas said: “The US will be justified in making their request once again. The argument based on the appropriate forum would no longer be available, since they would have no pending charges here.”
Douglas said had the businessmen been tried and acquitted in local courts, then it would be an abuse of process to entertain a fresh request for extradition. Meanwhile, the United States Embassy in a statement yesterday said it remained concerned by reports that Galbaransingh and Ferguson’s fraud cases may be dropped.
The two were first indicted in 2005 in a Miami Federal Court on numerous fraud and money laundering charges, stemming from alleged bid rigging between 1996 and 2005 on contracts for the Piarco International Airport. The embassy said it would continue to seek the businessmen’s extradition despite the ruling last year by the T&T High Court.
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