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Ex-ministers to give evidence

Published: 
Saturday, August 19, 2017
Piarco Airport corruption case nears end
Ish Galbaransingh

Two former government ministers are among four accused who intend to provide evidence for their own defence as the “Piarco II” preliminary inquiry wraps up.

Former government ministers Brian Kuei Tung and Sadiq Baksh, former Airports Authority chairman Ameer Edoo and former public servant Peter Cateau gave that indication as the case resumed before Magistrate Ejenny Espinet in the Port-of-Spain Magistrate’s Court yesterday.

While they agreed to file their witness statements and those of their defence witnesses before the next hearing on September 7, their co-accused businessmen Ish Galbaransingh, Steve Ferguson and Amrith Maharaj, and former Airports Authority chairman Tyrone Gopee reserved their right to do so before an eventual trial.

The accused are charged with a series of corruption charges arising out of the construction of the $1.6 billion Piarco International Airport.

The inquiry before Ejenny, which began in 2004, is nearing its end as the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has already closed the State’s case.

In February, Espinet dismissed legal arguments that the State had insufficient evidence to prove the fraud charges.

She will now have to wait and consider all the evidence before she decides whether to order the accused to face a trial before judge and jury in High Court.

The group along with several other people were accused of corruption and bid-rigging in the airport project.

The charges were split between two preliminary inquiries with the first, dubbed “Piarco I” being already completed but yet to go on trial. The “Piarco II” inquiry had been derailed on several occasions due to various legal challenges filed by the accused men over the past decade.

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 more than 10 years to be tried to apply for their matters to be dismissed.

The group challenged the decision to repeal the legislation but their claim was rejected by the High Court, Court of Appeal and eventually the Privy Council.

The group currently has another lawsuit before High Court Judge Frank Seepersad in which it is challenging Espinet’s ruling on the no case submission.

They are claiming 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. The group had requested that Espinet recuse herself after the decision but she refused and proceeded to call on them to decide whether they wished to testify or call defence witnesses.

The accused men have not applied for a stay of the preliminary enquiry pending the determination of the case.

The case is expected to come up for hearing again on September 21.