DPP yet to decide on Piarco charges

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File photo: DPP Roger Gaspard.

Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC, has said his decision on whether to continue the criminal charges arising out of the construction of the Piarco International Airport is still under consideration, as the charges remain intact. Those charged include two former government ministers, a group of businesspeople and several companies

In a statement on Wednesday, Gaspard said it had been his public position that “taking Piarco I 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.” Rather, he said, “A joint trial of the allegations in Piarco No I and those arising from those other matters was desirable.”

On Monday, the Privy Council held that the complaint by the accused charged in Piarco I of apparent bias against then Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls was sufficient to strike down their committal to stand trial before a judge and jury.

Gaspard said the charges in Piarco I were laid on March 22, 2002 and June 3, 2002. The preliminary enquiry began on March 8, 2004 and the State closed its case on September 19, 2006.

Brian Kuei Tung

“After the submissions of a no case were made, the late chief magistrate overruled the submissions and found that a prima facie case was made out against all of the accused in July 2007.

The accused were committed to stand trial on January 7, 2008 after McNicolls decided not to recuse himself on the ground of apparent bias.

“It is this decision not to recuse and other conduct by the late chief magistrate and a former attorney general which were at the crux of the decision of the Judicial Committee.”

Gaspard said while it was open for him to restart the preliminary enquiry, he decided not to.

“In the premises, a decision as to whether these proceedings should be re-instituted would only be made after mature consideration of the quality of the evidence, at this time and thereafter upon a consideration of public interest factors including but not limited to:

(a) the age of the matter

(b) the alleged abuse of citizens’ trust

(c) the prevalence of white-collar crimes

(d) the enormity and financial consequences of the alleged fraudulent acts

(e) the costs incurred by the State to date

(f) prospective costs

(g) a consideration of society’s abhorrence for serious and complex white-collar crime, notwithstanding political imperatives

(h) the need to demonstrate to and assure the public that the State is committed to trying, within this jurisdiction, persons who are alleged to have practised acts of serious fraud on the country

(i) the need to act consistently with the rule of law

(j) the absolute necessity for a fair trial and

(k) the due process rights of any and all persons who may be the subject of any further proceedings in relation to Piarco I.”

Gaspard said he felt constrained to advise citizens of the republic of TT that “the ruling by the Judicial Committee does not pertain to other matters which fall outside of those that comprise Piarco No I.”

The decision follows a ruling by a US judge disqualifying Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, and the US law firm Sequor Law from a multi-million-dollar civil-asset forfeiture case linked to the same project, on the basis of Armour’s previous work as an attorney for former minister Brian Kuei Tung.

The disqualification of Sequor Law is under appeal in the US, but not the disqualification of Armour, according to government sources. The government has retained a new firm, White and Case, to pursue the appeal in the US.

The Piarco case in the US has been dragging on for the last 18 years and has cost taxpayers over $30 million.

An estimated $1.6 billion contract to upgrade the Piarco International Airport in 1995 is the project for which several people and companies are charged for corruption in Trinidad and Tobago and the US. File photo/Roger Jacob

Several of the accused in Piarco I are also charged in a broader criminal conspiracy involving claims of bid-rigging, setting up ghost firms and benefiting from millions of dollars from the construction of the airport terminal from 1995-2000.

Those charges are under challenge in the High Court by the accused, as the magistrate who was presiding over the case retired without completing the matter.

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