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Case against repeal of Section 34 starts today
Blackstone Chambers heavyweights Queen’s Counsel Michael Beloff and David Pannick will face off against each other today as businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson fight for their freedom. The two are challenging the repeal of the controversial Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act.
Lord Pannick and Beloff are both Oxford-educated and belong to the same chambers in London, but will be on different sides of the fence when the matter starts in the Port-of-Spain High Court before Justice Mira Dean-Amorer at 9.30 am.
They are among the five QCs who were flown in to T&T for the court matter, which is expected to continue throughout the week. Emotions are set to run high as relatives and friends of the businessmen and curious onlookers are expected to pack the courtroom to capacity in anticipation of the outcome.
The claimants—Galbaransingh, Ferguson and Maritime Life General Insurance Company and businessman Ameer Edoo—will be contending that they petitioned the court for freedom before the act was repealed in September last year. They are charged with committing fraud amounting to millions of dollars arising out of the Piarco Airport Enquiry.
The early proclamation of Section 34 of the act cleared the way for Galbaransingh and Ferguson, along with 47 others, to have court cases ten years and older dismissed. If the claimants are successful in their petition, charges arising out of the Piarco Airport scandal will be dropped.
Galbaransingh and Ferguson 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 $1.6 billion Piarco International Airport expansion project.
However, the businessmen won their judicial review hearing against the decision by Ramlogan to sign extradition warrants against them on October 9, 2010. Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh ruled that the decision was “unjust and oppressive.” Ramlogan later said he would not pursue an appeal in the extradition of the businessmen because of the lengthy legal process involved and because they were expected to come to trial in T&T shortly.
The US Government openly expressed its displeasure over the turn of events, saying it was “disappointed by the outcome of the case.”
The Section 34 story
Section 34, controversially proclaimed on August 31, 2012—ahead of the rest of the act—would have allowed certain accused to walk free if their cases had not started within ten years of the commission of an offence. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar called for an emergency sitting of the House of Representatives on September 13 for Section 34 to be repealed.
Persad-Bissessar blamed Justice Minister Herbert Volney for the fiasco and fired him from her Cabinet.
The legal teams
Leading the high-powered legal team for the claimants is Beloff, together with Edward Fitzgerald, QC, and Fyard Hosein, SC, who will be representing Ferguson and Maritime Life General Insurance Company. Galbaransingh will be represented by Andrew Mitchell, QC, while senior counsel Sophia Chote will appear for Edoo.
Appearing on behalf of the Attorney General will be Pannick, together with Allan Newman, QC, junior counsel Gerard Ramdeen and solicitor general Eleanor Joye Donaldson-Honeywell.
Petitions for freedom were also filed by former Airports Authority executive Amrith Maharaj and Maritime executives John Henry Smith and Barbara Gomes, as well as the company itself and Maritime Finance, Galbaransingh’s Northern Construction Ltd, Fidelity Finance Leasing Company Ltd, former finance minister Brian Kuei Tung, former works minister Carlos John, and former national security minister Russell Huggins.
These cases are expected to come up later this week.
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