Ferguson seeks to block DPP from filing Piarco 2 indictments

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Steve Ferguson, former Maritime executive. –

ONE of the defendants in the Piarco 2 inquiry is seeking to block the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) from filing indictments directly in the High Court for the decade-old charges.

Businessman Steve Ferguson has appealed two rulings of a High Court judge in 2019 and 2022 as it relates to the Piarco 2 inquiry which was left in abeyance when presiding magistrate Ejenny Espinet retired in 2018.

In an application filed on Monday, Ferguson is asking that the Appeal Court grant a stay to prevent the DPP from filing indictments in the 2004 Piarco 2 charges.

Ferguson is also appealing the rulings of Justice Devindra Rampersad who, in 2019, held that a fresh inquiry had to start over because of Espinet’s retirement and in 2022, ruled there was no need for a preliminary inquiry for the DPP to file indictments.

In his 2022 decision, Rampersad said the DPP was free to proceed without any restriction and dismissed Ferguson’s complaint.

In the appeal, Ferguson intends to argue that the judge’s conclusion that the 2019 order did not prevent the DPP from filing indictments without there being a new inquiry.

The appeal also challenges the judge’s ruling that Ferguson had not established his claim for constitutional relief.

“There is no dispute between the parties that the preliminary inquiry in its narrow sense (the evidentiary hearing) ended when the magistrate retired, and that a new preliminary inquiry in that same narrow sense will be needed before the defendants can be committed to trial,” the appeal says.

It asks for an order setting aside all of Rampersad’s 2022 ruling.

In the stay application, Ferguson points out that in 2021, in the matter before Rampersad, the DPP gave an undertaking not to prefer indictments in the Piarco 2 inquiry until the matter was disposed of or a further order was given.

It also says if the DPP was not restrained, then he would set in motion a process of trial on an indictment that would deprive Ferguson and the other Piarco 2 defendants of their due process rights.

“He would wrongly abandon his long-standing and principled decision that Piarco 1 and Piarco 2 should proceed to trial together, having regard to the close connections between the two cases, and he would wrongly ignore the implications of the Privy Council’s recent ruling in relation to Piarco 1, “ the application contends.

On June 27, 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.

On June 29, DPP Roger Gaspard, SC, 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.”

He is contemplating his next move on the way forward for the Piarco 1 charges. He also said one of his considerations is the due process rights of all the accused. 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 which forms the basis for the Piarco 2 inquiry.

A third inquiry, Piarco 3, was called in the Port of Spain Magistrates’ Court last week. This inquiry had also been stalled when Espinet retired. In that matter attorneys for the four defendants, which include former prime minister Basdeo Panday and his wife Oma, are resisting any attempt by the State to postpone the matter.

They have asked the presiding magistrate to discharge them.

A fourth matter, Piarco 4, is still ongoing in the magistrates’ court. Those before the courts in the various matters also include former finance minister Brian Kuei Tung; former national security minister Russell Huggins; former Nipdec chairman Edward Bayley (now deceased); Maritime General executive John Smith (now deceased), and Barbara Gomes; Northern Construction chairman Ishwar Galbaransingh and financial director Amrith Maharaj; and Kuei Tung’s then companion Renee Pierre.

Piarco 1 related to the alleged theft of $19 million while Piarco 2 involved a broader conspiracy to allegedly steal US$200 million while 3 and 4 related to the alleged payment of bribes.

Foreign nationals and companies, both local and foreign, were also charged. There is also a civil asset recovery case in the United States.

In May, a US judge disqualified 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 Kuei Tung and Pierre.

The disqualification of Sequor Law is under appeal in the US.

Armour’s public statements on the US case led to a call by lawyers for a special general meeting of the Law Association to vote on a motion of no-confidence in the attorney general and to call for his resignation.

The association’s financial members are expected to meet on Friday, at 2 pm, at the Hyatt Regency to vote on the requisition which says if the allegations against Armour are not addressed it had the potential to erode the public’s confidence in the profession, the administration of justice and the rule of law.

The Law Association has also opened a separate investigation into the AG’s conduct.

In a full-page newspaper advertisement, published after public commentary over what transpired in the case, Armour denied he misled the US Court when he initially claimed he only played a minor role in representing Kuei Tung, which was limited to research and note-taking.

Armour claimed that his initial affidavit to the court was prepared while he was in Europe on vacation and he did not have access to his office records to full recall the extent of his involvement in the case over 14 years ago.

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