Airport inquiry to start over 15 years later

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.

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