– Justices say adjournments were given without reasonsThe Appeal Court of Guyana has overturned a March, 2013 decision of former acting Chief Justice Ian Chang, who had ruled in favour of three persons who claimed that a buyer of a vessel paid no installments out of a $22,500,000 mortgage agreement.The decision was handed down by acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, and Appellate Court Justices Rafiq Khan and Dr. Arif Bulkan last month.The Appellant, who was the defendant in the previous High Court matter, was Richard Simpson, and he was represented by attorney Subedar Hassain.Meanwhile, attorney Sase Gunraj represented the respondents, the late Abdool Yaseen, and family members Abdool Naeem Yassen and Halima Bibi Yassen. They were the plaintiffs when the case was heard at the High Court. According to court documents, Justice Chang had dismissed the Yassen’s claim but restored it on June 8, 2009.The matter is dated 22 years ago when the Yaseens outlined that on April 10, 1996, before the Registrar of Deeds, Simpson willingly condemned in judgment, two immovable properties he owned in favour of the respondents for the Yassens to secure the $ 22.5 million payment for MV Uffee boat. The Yassens filed theirFormer Acting Chief Justice Ian Changcourt case 20 days later on April 30, 1996.In his defence, Simpson claimed that he never received any money from the Yassens and that he did not mortgage any property to them and that Abdool Yassen was an unregistered money lender. In fact, Simpson stated that the mortgage was “illegal and void” as he was “deceived” by the family into signing a hire purchase agreement.The matter came up for trial, 16 years after it was filed, on May 16, 2012, before Justice Chang; and by that time the senior Yaseen had already passed away. The son, Abdool Naeem, told the court then that he did not know that Simpson had made any payments to his father. However, Stephen Thomas who was Director of Martime Safety has testified before the court that the MV Uffee was first registered in Yasseen’s name and Simpson’s afterwards. During High Court proceedings, it was also heard by Principal Clerk of Georgetown Magistrate’s Court, Mohamed Bacchus, that none of the respondents was a licensed money lender.Justice Chang’s rulingIn Justice Chang’s March 1, 2013 determination, he ruled in favour of the Yassens and held that the case was a sale of credit of the vessel rather than a moneylending transaction. He declared that Simpson would pay interest on the $22,500,000 sum at a rate 6% per annum starting from April 30, 1996 to when he handed down his ruling. Justice Chang found that Simpson “covenanted” to pay the full mortgage sum in 48 monthly installments of $468,750 from March 1, 1996.“[Simpson] paid no installment in accordance with the above covenant since it wasAppeal Court of Guyanadenied that he was ever indebted to [the Yassens,” Justice Chang had ruled.AppealHowever, Simpson through his attorney mounted an appeal, noting that the former acting Chief Justice’s ruling was a breach of natural justice since the trial was held in the appellant’s absence and that the court had no jurisdiction to dismiss the respondents claim and restore it on June 8, 2009. Justices Cummings-Edwards, Rafiq Khan and Dr. Arif Bulkan cited a number of issues with Justice Chang’s ruling, with several references to case law.Among the concerns of the Appellate judges was that Simpson never appeared in person to testify, and that “nowhere in the mortgage deed it was stated that the $ 22.5 million sum was for a loan transaction.” Additionally, the senior judges found Justice Chang granted adjournments without giving reasons. The judges said that it would not permit assertions by Simpson’s attorney, Hussain, that Justice Change was fraudulent.“…baseless allegations such as the one made by counsel for the appellant serve no other purpose that to besmirch the integrity of the trial court,” the Appellate Court opined.The court also held that Abdool Naeem gave conflicting evidence when he said he did not know whether Simpson paid any money to his father and then when he later said that Simpson never paid any money to them. His evidence was deemed not credible or reliable. The judges pointed out that the respondents did not discharge the legal burden of proof at the time they commenced proceedings on the grounds to enforce the mortgage. As such, the judges allowed the appeal and set aside’s Justice Chang’s decision. No court costs were awarded when the July 10, 2018 decision was handed down.
Attorney General Basil WilliamsThe audit report into the operations of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) has been completed but Government, the head of that Unit, and the Police Commissioner are mum on its findings and recommendations.Although the media has already highlighted the findings and recommendation of the audit, which speaks to serious irregularities, including the falsification of records, Attorney General Basil Williams on Monday declined to comment on the issue citing he is yet to receive a copy of report.“Was the report released formally? I don’t see any official report about SOCU…”, Williams said on Monday.Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Leslie James, told Guyana Times on Monday afternoon that whatever information has to be disclosed about that report would be done via his Public Relations Officer.Additionally, the Head of SOCU, Sydney James, when asked about the credibility of the cases that the Unit had pursued and is presently pursuing in light of the damning allegations of fraudulent activities at SOCU, stated that he too would not be commenting on the issue.“I don’t know. You could talk to the Commissioner, honestly, I don’t know…I don’t want to comment on the matter,” James said.According to recent reports, the audit of the financial records of SOCU has uncovered serious irregularities, including the falsification of records, and has recommended immediate transfers and a fraud investigation of several of the discrepancies, sources say.An audit of SOCU, which is a branch of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), was ordered by Police Commissioner Leslie James in February following claims of grave mismanagement, which included the misuse of its operational fund.Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has previously said that SOCU’s mandate is not being delivered, especially since it is suspected of taking political directives. He had noted that this was responsible for its failure rate.SOCU, which had been initially set up to probe financial crimes and strengthen the country’s anti-money laundering architecture, had not been audited since its establishment in 2014.The Unit had been engaged in major high-profile probes of former People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government officials. The findings of the audit would be seen as a major embarrassment for the current Government.SOCU has already had several of its cases tossed out of the window by the courts, including a number of charges against former Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) executives and Guyana Bank of Trade and Industry (GBTI) Directors.In light of these revelations of widespread fraud and financial irregularities within SOCU, the PPP called for the Unit to be closed down.According to the Party on Friday, the revelations vindicate its many warnings about SOCU deviating from its mandate. In fact, the Party noted that the revelations are just the tip of the iceberg, and that a forensic audit from an outside impartial auditor is needed.“The materials”, the Party said, “disclosed by the audit have confirmed our worst fears. But we are convinced that it is only the tip of the iceberg.“This Unit has rendered itself absolutely unfit to function as a law enforcement agency and as part of the prosecutorial arm of the State. There is no doubt that both investigations and prosecutions are being compromised by this diabolical outfit, who takes political instructions directly from Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, the Attorney General, and the Ministry of the Presidency”, the Party said.The Party also called for Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, who is the subject Minister responsible for SOCU, to immediately resign. It noted that the Unit has for some time been giving appearances of unethical behaviour.“The public was made aware of the unholy relationship between Minister Khemraj Ramjattan; Attorney General Basil Williams; British consultant, Dr Sam Sittlington; and senior functionaries at SOCU; who were sighted jovially sipping wine and champagne at public places after arresting a number of PPP leaders.”“The public”, the PPP added, “would well remember a former Commissioner of Police publicly distancing himself from the operations of this Unit. Recently, the Director of Public Prosecutions, in a sworn affidavit in a High Court proceeding, made it clear that the Office of the DPP did not advise on a series of criminal charges instituted by this Unit.”IcebergAccording to the PPP, complaints have been made against the Unit by various business persons. The Party related that businessmen have been shaken down by the Unit and have had their valuables seized.“Over the years, we have received multiple reports from businessmen that SOCU officers have extracted from them huge sums of monies as bribes, and seized large caches of jewellery, monies and other personal valuables, including quantities of foreign currencies, from their premises without due process, and have converted these assets to their own use.“We have also received reports of falsification of evidence in prosecutions, and the refusal to disclose materials which the law requires them to do, in order to ensure a fair trial of persons charged,” the Party said. “This contamination of the criminal justice system strikes at the very foundation of the rule of law.”Police Commissioner Leslie James