Monday, December 18, 2017

‘Nothing wrong with that’

Ministers attending Galbaransingh wedding:

At least two Government Ministers and a former one have agreed there was nothing wrong with Cabinet members attending the wedding of the son of businessman Ishwar Galbaransingh who is facing criminal charges locally and is wanted in the United States on money laundering charges.

“The son is not before the courts,” was the explanation given by Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj on the reason he chose to attend the wedding of Syam Galbaransingh in Tobago last weekend.

Syam Galbaransingh is the son of United National Congress financier Ishwar Galbaransingh.

He exchanged wedding vows with Melanie Moses in the sister isle.

The senior Galbaransigh along with Steve Ferguson are wanted in the United States to answer a series of money laundering charges levelled against them by the US Government.

Twp Saturdays ago, several Government ministers were among the 900 guests at the wedding and reception at the Le Grand Courlan resort owned by the Galbaransingh family

Apart from Maharaj, those present included Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh, Trade Minister Vasant Bharath, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, Environment Minister Ganga Singh and Transport Minister Chandresh Sharma.

Maharaj told the Sunday Express he did not wish to comment further and maintained he was there to support Syam.

“I prefer to not comment. I went to the wedding of the son. I know the son.”

Asked if he was concerned about his attendance, Maharaj said; “The son is not before the court and that’s the wedding I attended and that’s the end of my comment.”

Also defending his decision to attend was Bharath.

In a radio interview last week Bharath said his family and Galbaransingh’s have been friends for years and based on this friendship he accepted the invitation.

Efforts to contact the other ministers were unsuccessful, as the Sunday Express was told to call back. 

Follow-up calls and messages left were not returned.

Even the man who piloted the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011, which saw Section 34 being repealed said nothing was wrong with the ministers attending the lavish affair.

Former justice minister Herbert Volney told the Sunday Express: “I didn’t see anything wrong with it. They were invited.

Mr Galbaransingh  has some charges pending against him for the last 12 years that are going absolutely nowhere. He’s presumed to be innocent. So I see no reason why they ought not to have accepted the invitation.”

Asked about the perception (following the repeal of Section 34) that this part of the Act was geared towards benefiting financiers of the government and the fact that Galbaransingh is a wanted man in the US and also facing criminal charges locally, the former minister said; “I have no comment to make. I was the one who piloted this in Parliament  and it had nothing to do with Mr Galbaransingh.”

Former attorney general  Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj when contacted said: “Members of the Cabinet ought to have been aware there was a lot of public concerns about the proclamation of Section 34 and it showed disrespect to members of the public because there were allegations the government was involved in its early proclamation.”

Maharaj said: “Members of the Cabinet needed to be more circumspect and the public perspective is that this is evidence of the desire of Cabinet to proclaim Section 34 in order to facilitate individuals.”

In addition to some members of Government being friends with Galbaransingh, his wife Cheryl was present at the swearing-in ceremony of  Kamla Persad-Bissessar as Prime Minister in 2010.

In 2012, the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011 was proclaimed by then president George Maxwell Richards in a move to end preliminary enquiries in the local courts. Certain parts of the Act were supposed to come into effect on January 1 last year.

The president’s proclamation was gazetted on August 30, 2012. With the Act in effect, the Preliminary Enquiry Act would have been replaced and nullified the need for a preliminary enquiry to be held in relation to matters filed  indictably.

However, the act bore a controversial clause-Section 34(2)-which stated that if after ten years the case wasn’t heard, the accused could apply to a judge to have the charges dismissed. This clause would have seen Galbaransingh and businessman Steve Ferguson and several other supporters of the Government escaping the law. The controversial Section 34 was subsequently repealed and Volney was fired after Persad-Bissessar accused him of “misleading Cabinet”.

Meanwhile Galbaransingh and Ferguson, are still wanted in the United States on a series of money laundering charges. The two were first indicted in 2005 in a Miami Federal Court on numerous fraud and money laundering charges, stemming from alleged bid rigging between 1996 and 2005 on contracts for the Piarco International Airport.

Millions of dollars  have been spent in criminal and civil cases against the men. The State retained the services of James Lewis QC, for advice on whether an appeal should be launched seeking to have the men extradited.

Lewis was retained by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to advise on whether any action should be taken following the November 11, 2011, ruling of Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh against extraditing the businessmen. In a legal document dated December 17, 2011, Lewis said he was assured by Ramlogan that the businessmen would face a speedy trial in local courts if they were not extradited.

“On the other hand, I am informed the claimants can be tried in Trinidad and Tobago almost immediately on the same conduct,” Lewis said.

On December 19, 2011, Ramlogan, in a media release, said he came to the view that “the ends of justice” will be served by foregoing the appeal and allowing the criminal prosecution currently before the local courts to proceed. Ramlogan said he was basing his decision on the advice given to him by Lewis.

On December 20, 2011, the United States Embassy in Port of Spain expressed disappointment in Ramlogan’s decision not to appeal the ruling barring the businessmen’s extraditions. 

“We are disappointed in the outcome of the Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson extradition case...Though we are very disappointed in the outcome, we value our relationship with Trinidad and Tobago and will continue to work with the government on other extradition cases,” the Embassy stated.