Wednesday 21st March, 2007

 

Basdeo Panday’s appeal verdict

 
 
 
 
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Ex-PM to appeal retrial

BY GAIL ALEXANDER

The lion is back.

And yesterday’s Appeal Court verdict is timely for the UNC to move forward to win the next election.

Those were the words of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar as UNC leader Basdeo Panday expressed vindication at yesterday’s favourable outcome.

Panday exited the Hall of Justice at around 2.45 pm in a much lighter mood than when he had exited the Magistrates Court in April, when the verdict was handed down against him in his Integrity Commission matter.

But yesterday, Justice Margot Warner set aside that first conviction against Panday and she ordered a retrial under a different magistrate.

Warner cited proprietal bias as the basis, where the evidence of Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls was concerned in the integrity case.

Lawyers for both sides projected the matter would get under way shortly.

But Persad-Bissessar warned yesterday that the UNC would appeal any retrial even before the latter got under way.

Panday, swamped by reporters and flashing camera lights outside the Hall of Justice, said he did, indeed, feel vindicated by the verdict.

With happy wife Oma at his side, daughter Mikela at another and brother Subhas at one end, Panday added:

The case was all based on political persecution and all the facts have not come out in this matter…but in the course of time they will.

I also want to tell those who felt I would have ended up in prison—as they might have felt this was the only way their careers would have advanced—I want to tell them: sorry, next time,” he said.

I’ve always known Almighty God would not rest on my shoulders a burden heavier than I could ever bear.

I want to thank the hundreds and thousands who have been praying for me in this…I thank my attorneys, many of whom worked long and hard hours, many of them pro bono. I thank my family and more so my daughter Mikela in her capacity as lawyer and daughter…any father would have been exceedingly proud.

I thank my friends and supporters inside and outside the party for standing by me during this trial.”

On what impact the verdict would have on his political future and whether he would continue in politics, Panday said:

“For 40 years I’ve devoted my life to serving people to make their lives better, and I’m too old to turn back now.”

Persad Bissessar said: “The timing of the verdict is perfect…We’re into an election year.

The Government has showed it will use everything it can to put obstacles in the way of our leader…But the lion is back, the lion is back,” she said.

We’re exceedingly happy that justice has been done. We always knew Mr Panday was being persecuted and prosecuted unjustly and there was a conspiracy and bias in the matter and only a matter of time before it righted itself.”

Persad-Bissessar and Subhas both said a retrial could never be fair.

Would the Chief Magistrate be appointing the magistrate for retrial?” she asked.

In any event, the process will be appealed before it even reaches retrial.”

Several UNC supporters outside the Hall of Justice were jubilant about Panday’s verdict.

State attorney Sir Timothy Cassell, QC, left the Hall of Justice refusing to speak with the media.

Also present on the scene were representatives from the Attorney General’s department.


PNM mum on verdict

The PNM is refusing to comment on yesterday’s ruling by the Court of Appeal that upheld the appeal of UNC interim leader Basdeo Panday and quashed his conviction and jail sentence for failing to declare a London bank account.

In a release yesterday by PNM’s public relations officer Jerry Narace, the PNM stated the judicial system was set up in such a way that prevented prosecutions from being politically motivated.

The PNM applauds and respects the doctrine of separation of powers, the rule of law and principle of due process,” the release stated, adding that criminal prosecutions were brought by the State through the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The ruling party sought to remind the public that the investigation into Panday’s matter was launched by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, who incidentally was now Panday’s lead counsel.

This matter ought not to be viewed as political,” the release added.

The PNM also noted that the Court of Appeal had ordered a retrial.


Boost for UNC—COP

THE Opposition United National Congress (UNC) will receive a political boost as a result of yesterday’s Court of Appeal verdict in favour of UNC leader Basdeo Panday, Congress of the People’s (COP) Ganga Singh said yesterday.

Singh spoke minutes after the verdict was delivered at the Hall of Justice yesterday.

The integrity case conviction against Panday was set aside and a retrial ordered under a new magistrate.

Singh said: “In the same way that the UNC suffered when Mr Panday was convicted, the party will now receive a bounce as a result of the current Court of Appeal decision.

“Regarding the circumstances that arose at the end of the trial, it is a fair decision by the Court of Appeal…But the retrial and other matters Mr Panday has in the court loom overhead,” he said. —GA


Bas free to face poll

The way is now clear for United National Congress (UNC) leader Basdeo Panday to contest a seat in a general election. But he cannot get back his Couva North seat in Parliament immediately. He must face another poll.

This was made clear by Parliament officials following claims yesterday that the Court of Appeal verdict had opened the way for Panday to go back into Parliament and immediately reclaim his Couva North seat.

The Couva North seat was declared vacant last year after Panday declined to seek an extension for leave while his trial was ongoing. Under law, in an election year a seat remains vacant until an election is called.

Yesterday, Parliament officials said Panday could not regain the seat except through an election.

But they confirmed that since the conviction against him was quashed by the Appeal Court yesterday, he was eligible to contest an election and fight for the seat again, even though he has another matter in court.

It is only if he was convicted again on the integrity matter or was convicted on the other matter would he be ineligible to contest an election for a seat, Parliament officials added.

In a TG public affairs column two Saturdays ago, UNC leadership officials said they were holding off screening election nominees for Couva North until the Court of Appeal’s deliberation yesterday.

They said the decision was taken following the move by Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls to forego evidence in the criminal case against Chief Justice Sat Sharma, in which Sharma was accused of attempting to influence Panday’s integrity case.

The criminal case against Sharma subsequently collapsed.

UNC’s screening resumes at month’s end.

UNC officials, when asked if Panday would be nominated to contest Couva North again, asked in response: “What you think?”

Congress of the People’s Hulsie Bhaggan will be fighting that seat for the new party, while PNM’s nominees include a Couva businessman. —GA


Court history

Former prime minister Basdeo Panday has been before the courts since 2002, when the three charges were laid against him under the Integrity in Public Life Act 1987.

  • He was charged with knowingly making a false declaration of income and assets for the respective years December 31, 1997, 1999 and 1998, contrary to the Integrity in Public Life Act 1987.
  • Since his first appearance in court on November 19, 2002, the case had been adjourned as the politician’s lawyers sought time to challenge the validity of the charges against him.
  • Panday had filed several lawsuits and also petitioned the Privy Council challenging Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls’ decision to go ahead with the matter.
  • In February 2006, the Law Lords threw out his appeal and Mc Nicolls fixed March 20 that same year for the start of the matter.
  • The summary trial was heard in one week and foreign witnesses were on hand to testify for the prosecution.
  • Upon conviction, he was also fined $20,000 on each charge and was ordered to pay to the State the amount equivalent to that allegedly held in the bank account.
  • He also lost his Couva North seat in Parliament.
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