Junior AG usurping DPP’s role

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Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally – Photo courtesy Parliament

Opposition MP Dinesh Rambally has said statements by the Minister in the Office of the Attorney General Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal on making sure the people charged in the Piarco corruption matter are brought to trial are “a shocking and blatant attempt to pervert the course of justice.”

Rambally, an attorney and MP for Chaguanas West, made the comment in a statement posted by the UNC on Wednesday.

It came after Sagramsingh-Sooklal hosted a press briefing at the Government Campus Plaza to give an update on the possible outcomes of the Piarco I case. She disclosed a preliminary legal opinion solicited from attorney Kerwyn Garcia, the husband of Senate president Christine Kangaloo. Garcia’s opinion listed the options available to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to pursue the case against the Piarco accused, which included restarting the preliminary enquiry after 22 years before a different magistrate.

On Wednesday, the DPP, Roger Gaspard, SC, also issued a statement on the case, saying the decision on whether to continue it is still under review.

Rambally said the AG was responsible for the administration of justice generally, but it was the DPP’s role to decide whether or not to prosecute or discontinue a matter.

He said Sagramsingh-Sooklal’s use of the AG’s office “to promulgate an unsolicited opinion” was a “vulgar use” of its resources, adding, “While Minister Sagramsingh was elated to let us know of her initiative to secure a host of different legal opinions on the Privy Council judgment, locally, and abroad in London and in Miami, she has not yet revealed to us the cost of such an exercise to the taxpayers.”

The move was “yet another classic example of executive overreach, interference and abuse of public office by this administration.”

According to “democratic norms, values and conventions,” he said, ministers of state “ought not to influence or molest the decisions of independent officeholders.”

He condemned what he called “an example of institutional capture by the executive in the worst form” and “a direct attack on our democracy.

“The irony of this sorry episode is that the very dangers of which the Privy Council identified in their judgement, namely the appearance of an overzealous AG interfering in criminal prosecutions, (are) now brazenly being repeated in open defiance of the clear ruling of our nation’s highest court.”

Rambally was referring to a ruling by the Privy Council on June 27, which quashed the committal proceedings against two former government ministers, a group of businesspeople, and companies charged with a series of criminal complaints arising out of the construction of the Piarco Airport terminal building more than two decades ago.

Rambally said Sagramsingh-Sooklal herself “has pointed out that her ministry cannot tell the DPP what to do, yet the goal of her conference was to reassure the population that they are doing their best to ensure that the matter does not slip away from their hands into oblivion. The paradox escapes her.

“Apart from the merits or demerits of the case, any right-thinking citizen must condemn, in the strongest possible terms, this bold, and undemocratic attempt to influence the decision of the DPP in relation to these proceedings. To do otherwise would undermine or render the rule of law nugatory.”

He said the DPP had said he was prepared to give “mature consideration to pertinent matters,” as required, to make an independent decision on whether to continue the matter, on the basis of many factors.

He added, “It is hoped that this will remind the embattled Ministry of the AG and Legal Affairs (of) the boundaries of its own remit.”

On May 2, a US judge automatically disqualified AG Reginald Armour, SC, as the chief litigant against former government minister Brian Kuei Tung and others charged in a multi-million-dollar civil-asset forfeiture case that has dragged on for the past 18 years.

The judge disqualified Armour as well as the US law firm of Sequor Law owing to Armour’s previous role as a defence attorney for Kuei Tung and the fact that he had discussions with the firm after disclosing his conflict of interest. Armour claimed he had a lapse in memory about the extent of his role as Kuei Tung’s lawyer and was never given the opportunity to correct the court’s record.

The public record shows Armour’s deeper involvement as a senior counsel for the defendants.

The state has appealed the decision to strike out the law firm but not the decision to disqualify Armour.

Armour was appointed on March 16 to replace Faris Al-Rawi as AG in a surprise Cabinet reshuffle. Al-Rawi has taken over Armour’s role in the Miami case as this country’s client representative and had been pursuing the US claim for over seven years before.

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