The sun rises again for former prime minister and United National Congress (UNC) founder, Basdeo Panday.
The cloud of corruption was yesterday lifted from the veteran politician when he was acquitted of charges of failing to declare the assets of a London-based bank account to the Integrity Commission for three consecutive years.
Panday said he felt vindicated after being discharged by Magistrate Marcia Murray who ruled yesterday that the Integrity Commission had failed to comply with the provisions of the Integrity in Public Life Act.
The issue of the London bank account had greatly coloured the public perception of Panday and his administration, and was the subject of many barbs on the political hustings from 2002.
Murray said the Commission had failed to advise the President to appoint a tribunal to enquire into Panday's declarations.
"Mr Panday was not given the opportunity to which he was entitled, to be heard by a properly constituted tribunal. The referral of Mr Panday's declarations to the Director of Public Prosecutions was therefore ill-conceived and it matters not that the Director of Public Prosecutions found that there was sufficient evidence to lay the charges. In the court's view, failing to accord Mr Panday due process under the Act amounts to misconduct on the part of the Integrity Commission," Murray said.
The magistrate further stated that without misconduct on the part of the commission, the issue of Panday being charged and brought before the court would not have arisen.
"It is the court's view that the misconduct of the Integrity Commission was so serious that it would undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system and bring it into disrepute. The court therefore is compelled to stop these proceedings to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system," said Murray.
It is the second time that an Integrity Commission matter has come before the Court which found that their procedures were faulty. The Commission had found itself facing similar censure in a matter involving PNM politician Keith Rowley, when the court ruled it acted "in bad faith" and was guilty of "misfeasance" in public affairs in dealings with Rowley, with respect to an investigation of a complaint about Landate, a project owned by Rowley and his wife.
Panday was facing three charges under the Integrity in Public Life Act of 1987 with failing to declare the assets of the account amounting to approximately $1.6 million held at the National Westminster Bank at Wimbledon Hill Road, London, for the years ending 1997, 1998 and 1999 while he was prime minister.
When the matter was last called on May 17, lead defence attorney David Aaronberg QC had made an application for a stay of proceedings on the grounds of abuse of process, stating that Panday was not receiving a fair trial based on a number of issues, including pretrial publicity and political "mischief-making."
Aaronberg had argued that in the run-up to the 2001 general election which resulted in an 18-18 tie between the People's National Movement (PNM), led by Patrick Manning and the United National Congress (UNC), led by Panday, Manning had made statements with regard to the account in order to cause Panday to lose political mileage.
"The background to this whole prosecution was mischief-making in the run-up to the 2001 general election," Aaronberg said.
Aaronberg had also questioned why Panday was the sole person to be charged under the Integrity in Public Life Act despite a number of other individuals also being referred by the Integrity Commission to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
He further argued that Panday was not the beneficiary of the account but instead his wife Oma was. Aaronberg had stated that under the Integrity in Public Life Act of 1987 under which Panday was charged, one was not required to declare the assets of their spouse.
The prosecution, however, which was led by Sir Timothy Cassell QC and included Renuka Rambhajan and Anju Bhola, argued that Panday was fully aware he was required to declare the assets of the account and in a last-ditch effort, he wrote a letter to the bank in 2002, requesting that his name be removed from the account in order to evade local authorities.
Panday had made history when he went to jail on this matter after his first trial before former Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls in 2006, led to a guilty verdict and the maximum sentence of two years in prison on each of the charges. During that trial, former CL Financial boss, Lawrence Duprey gave evidence in support of Panday.
Following yesterday's ruling, Panday told reporters that in the past ten years since he had been charged, on many occasions he had experienced "ups and downs."
He said, "after listening to my lawyers' submissions, I knew it was just a matter of time before the matters were dismissed."
Panday's daughter, Mickela, who also represented him in the matters, said she was relieved that the right decision was made in the matters after it has been before the court for so many years.
Commenting on the ruling, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley said the fact that the Integrity Commission was found to be in breach of the law in carrying out its functions should be of concern to all. It calls for a comprehensive review and overhaul of the existence of the Commission and how it carries out its function, he said. He added that the Court's ruling that the Commission threatens the criminal system is a damning and, as in his matter, points to "the failure of the watchdog agency to watch effectively and to protect people's rights as it carries out its function". —with reporting by Ria Taitt
September 2002: Panday charged by former Fraud Squad head Snr Supt Wellington Virgil.
January 2006: Panday's London lawyers file an application directly to
the Privy Council seeking permission to challenge the constitutionality of
January 2006: High Court judge Judith Jones throws out lawsuit challenging Magistrate's McNicolls's decision to proceed with the trial.
February 2006: Appeal Court clears the way for the criminal trial to proceed.
April 2006: McNicolls finds Panday guilty. He spends five days at the Maximum Security Prison before being granted bail on the basis of ill health.
His attorneys appeal the decision.
April 2008: Privy Council rules that Panday should face a retrial on the charges.
June 2011: Retrial starts before Magistrate Murray.
June 2012: Magistrate discharges Panday.