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Wednesday 22 May 2019
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Judge: Probe $m land deal

LAND valued over $6 million owned by Caroni (1975) Ltd was grabbed by two proprietors who then waged a legal battle for ownership, culminating yesterday in a judge calling on the Commissioner of Police (CoP) and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to investigate fraud.

The use of a letter from Caroni by one “owner” to claim the land opposite Point Lisas Industrial Estate, then selling it for $6 million, prompted Justice Frank Seepersad also to invite the commissioner of state lands to investigate.

Couva restaurant proprietor Unanan Persad claimed possession of one acre out of the four-acre parcel, contending he had used it as a car park for customers since 1984.

But Sonnilal Debedial and a relative Samdaye Debedial, claim they have been occupying it since 1967.

After the defunct Caroni’s corporate secretary Sandra Pujadas visited the land, Debedial obtained a letter on July 27, 1997, confirming that according to company records, he was in continuous occupation for over 30 years. The disputed acre and the four-acre block are two miles from the former Brechin Castle sugar factory.

On March 14, 2016, at 2 am, Persad was awakened by the sound of a backhoe bulldozing the one-acre lot. Police and licensed baliff Ramkarran Ramparas were present. Persad sued Debedial, Samdaye and Ramparas and also named the commissioner of state lands as a defendant.

Debedial said he agreed to sell the land to Aronco Services Ltd for $6 million and received a deposit of $2.6 million.

In the San Fernando High Court yesterday, Seepersad said that in order to thrash out both parties’ claim to ownership, the court commissioned an expert, Dr Dexter Davis, to provide a photogrammetric survey report, but Davis’ report provided no evidence to support either Persad or Debedial.

Seepersad said the use of the Caroni (1875) Ltd corporate secretary’s letter to sell the land for $6 million “is viewed by the court with unease.” If ownership of the land is vested in the State, he said, the commissioner of state lands “would be well advised to protect the State’s interest against baseless claims of entitlement by unscrupulous business interest. In this regard, the judgment shall be forwarded to the commissioner of state lands for immediate attention.” Ernest Koylass SC represented Persad while Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, argued the case for the Debedials.

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