Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George-Wiltshire has dismissed the challenge by recently re-appointed Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, and new head of the Government’s gas-to-shore project, Winston Brassington, over the misconduct in public office charges, which was brought against them by the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU).
In the decision, which was delivered at the High Court on Wednesday, the Chief Justice essentially ruled that Singh and Brassington must return to the Magistrate Court and face the charges.
The ruling comes one year after the challenge by Singh and Brassington was heard by the Court. The duo had challenged the legality of charges for ‘Misconduct in Public Office’ noting that their positions specifically excluded them from being considered or described as ‘public officers’ under the Constitution of Guyana.
However, Kaieteur News understands that based on Wednesday’s decision, the CJ did not uphold this reasoning. In an invited comment following the Court’s decision, attorney-at-law Sase Gunraj, explained that at this point the legal team for the two accused officials is exploring their options including their right to appeal the decision.
As it stands, he said their case would return to the lower court for trial.
According to charges, Singh in his capacity as Minister of Finance and Chairman of the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL) and Brassington as the head of NICIL—on May 14, 2011 at Lot 126 Barrack Street, Kingston, Georgetown— sold a tract of land being 10.002 acres of Plantation Turkeyen, East Coast of Demerara – property of the state of Guyana for the sum of $185,037,000 without first having procured a valuation of the said property from a competent valuation officer.
It is further alleged that Dr. Ashni Singh and Brassington on December 30, 2008 at Lot 126 Barrack Street, Kingston, Georgetown, by way of Agreement of Sale and Purchase without due diligence, sold to Scady Business Corporation, a 4.7 acres tract portion of Plantation Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, for $150M knowing that the said property was valued at $340M by Rodrigues Architects Associate, a competent valuation officer.
A similar charge alleged that the two on December 28, 2009 at Lot 126 Barrack Street, Kingston, Georgetown, by way of Agreement of Sale and Purchase, acted recklessly when they sold to National Hardware Guyana Limited, a tract of land at Plantation Liliendaal, Pattensen and Turkeyen, situated on the East Coast of Demerara, 103 acres, being property of the State of Guyana for the sum of $598,659,398 (VAT exclusive) without first having procured a valuation of the said property from a competent valuation officer.
The last charge against the duo states that: “Dr. Ashni Singh, being and performing duties of Minister of Finance and Chairman of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited, a company owned by the Government of Guyana; and Brassington, being and performing duties as the Chief Executive Officer of NICIL, a company owned by the Government of Guyana; between October 26, 2010 and December 20, 2010 at Lot 126 Barrack Street, Kingston, Georgetown, by way of Agreement of Sale and Purchase, acted recklessly when they sold to Queens Atlantic Investment Inc., Sanata Textiles Complex, with building and erections thereon, that is to say, Parcel 4702, Part of Plantation Ruimveldt, situated on the East Bank Demerara, being 18.871 acres, for $697,864,800 plus VAT, knowing that the said property was valued at the sum of $1,042,403,500 and was therefore being sold at a price that was grossly undervalued, thereby creating a breach of their duties.”
In relation to the first three charges, the men were each released on $6M bond by the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts.