The protracted “Piarco Two” preliminary inquiry into fraud charges arising out of the construction of the $1.6 billion Piarco International Airport has to be restarted.
The decision to restart the inquiry, which is quite possibly the longest-running and largest fraud case in the country’s history, was based on the retirement of former Senior Magistrate Ejenny Espinet, who left the Judiciary last year with the inquiry at an advanced stage, but still incomplete.
Last year, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) attempted to utilise Section 23(8) of the Indictable Offences (Preliminary Enquiry) Act 2005 to have the indictments for the charges filed in the High Court, without the inquiry, over whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant the charges, being completed.
The legislation empowers the DPP’s Office to take such action in circumstances where magistrates have heard evidence which discloses a prima facie case but fail to complete the preliminary inquiry due to physical or mental infirmity, resignation, retirement or death.
The move was challenged by some of the persons and companies before the inquiry- businessmen Steve Ferguson and Ishwar Galbaransingh, former Finance Minister Brian Kuei Tung and government officials Peter Cateau and Tyrone Gopee.
Delivering a 45-page judgement at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, yesterday morning, High Court Judge Devindra Rampersad upheld the group’s challenge.
Rampersad ruled that the legislation contained a provision that stated that it only had effect after September 2005.
Although the DPP’s Office claimed that the case started well after the deadline as Espinet was forced to deal with a myriad of preliminary legal issues before its first witness eventually gave evidence in 2008, Rampersad ruled that the case began as the men were first charged and hauled before the court in May 2004.