Several Former Government Ministers to Testify
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Several years after a group of businessmen, former government ministers and other officials had been accused of corruption in the construction of the TT$1.6 billion Piarco International Airport, they will begin presenting their defences on Friday of next week.
Senior Magistrate Ejenny Espinet Friday set the date after deciding on a new timetable for evidential hearings.
The magistrate said that the preliminary inquiry, which has been before her for over a decade, should be held on Wednesdays and Fridays to ensure that it is completed before she retires in May, next year. However, the move for additional hearings had been strongly opposed by the accused men.
The accused, businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, former government ministers Sadiq Baksh and Brian Kuei Tung, former Airport Authority chairman Tyrone Gopee, Galbarasingh’s former employee Amrith Maharaj, have been implicated between 2004 and 2005 for alleged corruption and bid-rigging in the airport project between 1995 and 2001.
Galbarasingh and Ferguson’s companies Northern Construction Limited and Maritime General Insurance are also implicated as parties in the inquiry.
At the next hearing, the accused men are expected to begin calling their witnesses or take the witness stand themselves with the magistrate expected to rule on whether they should be committed to stand trial at the end of the exercise.
The accused men currently have a judicial review lawsuit before Justice Jacqueline Wilson challenging Espinet’s ruling on their no-case submission, made after the State closed its case earlier this year.
The men claim that Espinet was only empowered to determine whether there was a prima facie case made out against them in the inquiry, she made numerous statements on their alleged guilt in her ruling.
Last week, Justice Wilson refused an application for a stay of the inquiry pending her decision.
In 2011, High Court Judge Ronnie Boodoosingh quashed proposed extradition of Galbaransingh and Ferguson who are wanted in the United States to face similar charges.
Boodoosingh ruled then that the inquiry before Espinet was the best forum for the prosecution as the substantive crimes were alleged to have occurred in this country.
The accused were also unsuccessful in their attempt to get the matter thrown out of court when the then People’s Partnership government tabled the controversial Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act.
The legislation with its infamous Section 34 clause would have allowed for people charged with specific offences and had been waiting for more than 10 years to apply for their matters to be dismissed.
The group challenged the State after the legislation was repealed with their applications still pending. But the High Court, Court of Appeal and eventually the Privy Council rejected their claim. – CMC