Both Senior Magistrate Ejenny Espinet and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, are resisting an application by the defendants in the Piarco II preliminary inquiry to stay magisterial proceedings against them.
The corruption accused are before Espinet and have filed a judicial review application seeking to have her removed from hearing their almost- completed case on the basis of bias. At the end of yesterday’s submissions, the defendants were given leave to pursue their judicial review claim, but the issue of the stay will be ruled on at a later date.
Lead attorney for Espinet, Douglas Mendes, SC, cautioned Justice Jacqueline Wilson who is hearing the judicial review application, against granting a stay. Mendes did not object to leave being granted for the judicial review application, but said even if a stay is granted, if Espinet retires in May, the bias argument would become academic.
He said if the case was unfinished by the time of Espinet’s retirement, then the issue of jurisdiction will arise. Admitting there were provisions in law to extend the period of retirement, Mendes said there was no compulsion on the part of the magistrate to stay on. “We are closer to the end than we are to the beginning,” he said. “We are not ascribing blame, but we want to point out that the proceedings have taken 12 years and now we have an outer time limit for the proceedings.”
Mendes said it was not as easy as the defendants say: “So be it if the case is to restart before a new magistrate. We have to consider what is the public’s interest. The grant of a stay may bring proceedings to an end,” he said. “The only solution to the problem is to give the committal proceedings a chance to be concluded naturally.”
Also resisting the stay were attorneys for the DPP, led by Gilbert Peterson, SC. In their leave application, the Piarco Inquiry defendants contend that in her rejection of their no-case submission on February 10, Espinet concluded there was a prima-facie case against them when she had no jurisdiction to make such a finding.
They have alleged that the magistrate, in her “flawed” ruling, made a series of conclusive adverse findings against them, and had already reached a conclusion on their committal without giving them an opportunity to advance their defence.
Before the magistrates’ court are Steve Ferguson and Ishwar Galbaransingh, along with former UNC Ministers Brian Kuei Tung and Sadiq Baksh, former Airports Authority chairman Tyrone Gopee and Galbaransingh’s former employee Amrith Maharaj. Galbaransingh and Ferguson’s companies Northern Construction Ltd and Maritime General Insurance are also implicated as parties in the inquiry. They along with several others were implicated between 2004 and 2005 for alleged corruption and bid-rigging arising out of the Piarco Airport Development Project between 1995 and 2001.