Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, has discontinued the protracted prosecution of former prime minister Basdeo Panday, his wife Oma, former government minister Carlos John and businessman Ishwar Galbaransingh for corruption related to the construction of the Piarco International Airport.
Gaspard announced his decision during a hearing before Magistrate Adia Mohammed, a short while ago.
Guardian Media understands that before today's hearing, lawyers representing the group, including the Pandays' legal team of attorneys Justin Phelps and Chase Pegus wrote to Gaspard calling on him to provide reasons for continuing to prosecute the case.
When Gaspard appeared in court this morning, he explained that his decision to discontinue the case was based on his office's low chances of securing convictions.
Gaspard pointed to the fact that key witnesses are no longer available as some have died and others have moved abroad.
He also admitted that the accused persons would have a fair chance of convincing the court that they were prejudiced in the case.
The case against the group was one of four, related to the airport project, that were initiated following an investigation by Canadian forensic investigator Robert Lindquist.
In the first case, commonly referred to as Piarco 1, a group of government officials and businesspeople was charged with offences related to the alleged theft of $19 million.
The group included Galbaransingh, former finance minister Brian Kuei Tung; former national security minister Russell Huggins; former Nipdec chairman Edward Bayley (now deceased); Maritime General executives John Smith (now deceased), Steve Ferguson, and Barbara Gomes; Northern Construction Financial Director Amrith Maharaj; and Kuei Tung's then companion Renee Pierre.
Some of the group and other public officials were also slapped with separate charges over an alleged broader conspiracy to steal US$200 million in another case, commonly referred to as Piarco 2.
The Piarco 3 case pertained to a £$25,000 bribe allegedly received by Panday and his wife and allegedly paid by John and Galbaransingh, while Piarco 4 involves Pierre.
In 2019, a High Court Judge upheld a legal challenge over the Piarco 2 case after former senior magistrate Ejenny Espinet retired with the preliminary inquiry almost complete.
The ruling meant that the preliminary inquiry into the Piarco 2 case had to be restarted afresh before a new magistrate along with the Piarco 3 inquiry, which was also before Espinet and left incomplete upon her retirement.
The Piarco 4 is also yet to be completed.
In June, last year, the United Kingdom-based Privy Council upheld an appeal from some of the accused in the Piarco 1 case over the decision of former chief magistrate Sherman McNicolls to commit them to stand trial for the charges.
The Privy Council ruled that McNicholls should have upheld their application for him to recuse himself from the case as he was "hopelessly compromised" based on a then-pending land deal with Clico and the involvement of former attorney general John Jeremie, SC, in helping him resolve it.
The Privy Council said: "Given that everything was happening in the full flare of publicity his mind must have been in turmoil."
"It is not difficult to imagine his gratitude. He has the Attorney General to thank for resolving his serious financial problems and for shutting down an investigation into his reprehensible conduct," it added.
Following the outcome of the case, DPP Gaspard issued a press release in which he noted that the inquiry had to be either restarted or the accused persons had to agree that indictments against them could be filed in the High Court without going through the preliminary inquiry process.
Gaspard noted that he would only make a decision on whether it should be restarted after considering public interest factors including the age of the case, the costs incurred by the State thus far, and the need to demonstrate the State's commitment to prosecuting alleged acts of fraud on the citizenry.
He also suggested a joint trial of all the allegations arising out of the four Piarco cases would be desirable.
"It has been my public position that taking Piarco 1 to trial would have been oppressive if not legally nettlesome while the other matters related to the airport project were in train, bearing in mind that there were common accused in both sets of matters," he said.