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New lawsuit filed over decade old Piarco case
Businessmen Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson and a group of former government officials have yet another lawsuit to avoid prosecution on corruption charges arising out of the construction of the $1.6 billion Piarco International Airport.
The group has filed a new lawsuit challenging the decision of Magistrate Ejenny Espinet to dismiss an application made in their protracted preliminary inquiry, in which they claimed that the charges should be dropped as the State failed to prove its case against them.
In their lawsuit, which came up for hearing before Justice Frank Seepersad in the Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday, the men and the companies are claiming that Espinet overstepped her boundaries when she ruled on their no case submission on February 10.
They claimed that while she is only empowered to determine whether there was a prima facie case made out against them in the inquiry, in her ruling on the submission, she made numerous statements on their alleged guilt. They claimed that her decision pre-decided the case and showed the “apparent bias” of the inquiry.
They are also contending that she relied on the hearsay evidence of former co-conspirator American Ronald Birk, who was implicated in the inquiry before he agreed to testify as a State witness and the charges against him were dropped.
In their no case submission, the group claimed that the State had failed to prove that there was unlawful conduct and means in the award of the contracts.
During yesterday’s hearing, the accused men’s attorney Edward Fitzgerald, QC, asked the court for a adjournment, as they are awaiting Espinet’s ruling on a recusal application made after she dismissed the no case submission. The decision is expected to be given on July 7.
Fitzgerald admitted that the case before Seepersad would be rendered academic if Espinet eventually agrees to recuse herself.
If she makes the decision, the over decade-old case would have to be restarted as it cannot continue before another magistrate.
In response, Gilbert Peterson, SC, who represented the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) questioned the accused men’s basis for the lawsuit.
“We have an unusual situation in which they are trying to judicially review a decision which is yet to be taken. I have never encountered such a case before,” Peterson said.
Deputy Solicitor General Neal Byam, who is representing Espinet, also said he needed additional time as he had only been briefed on the case on Thursday.
Seepersad agreed with the need to delay the case and adjourned it to September 21. The group is also being represented by Fyard Hosein, SC.
ABOUT THE CASE
The members of the group include former government ministers Sadiq Baksh and Brian Kuei Tung, former Airport Authority chairman Tyrone Gopee and Galbarasingh’s former employee Amrith Maharaj.
Galbaransingh and Ferguson’s companies Northern Construction Ltd and Martime General Insurance are also implicated as parties in the inquiry.
They along with several others were implicated between 2004 and 2005 for alleged corruption and bid rigging in the airport project between 1995 and 2001.
In 2011, High Court Judge Ronnie Boodoosingh quashed proposed extradition of Galbaransingh and Ferguson to the United States to face similar charges. Boodoosingh ruled that the inquiry before Espinet was the best forum for the prosecution as the substantive crimes were alleged to have occurred in this country.
The following year, the businessmen along with all other charged for corruption in the project applied under the controversial Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act. The legislation gave people charged with specific offences who had waited over 10 years to be tried to apply for their matters to be dismissed.
The group challenged the State after the legislation was repealed with their applications still pending. However, their claim was rejected by the High Court, Court of Appeal and eventually the Privy Council.
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