Businessman and party promoter Adrian Scoon's position is that his brief detention and a search of his Maraval home on Wednesday were completely unnecessary, disproportionate and an abuse of power by the police.
The police were searching for evidence that Scoon or his company breached public health regulations by operating a party boat contrary to regulation 4 of the public health regulations; held a public party contrary to the regulations; and had a gathering in a public place contrary to regulation 3.
They were looking for the special licence of his Ocean Pelican restaurant, company records and other documents, it was reported on Thursday.
Scoon’s attorney Kiel Taklalsingh said there was no need to execute a search warrant for documents that were already in the State’s possession.
He said his client had agreed to return the original licence – which was deemed null and void by the comptroller of the Customs and Excise Division – while keeping a copy, since the matter was destined for the court.
He questioned why the police would swear an affidavit to get a warrant to enter his client’s premises to detain him and search for the licence when they could have simply requested it from them or from the comptroller.
“It is absolutely ridiculous,” Taklalsingh said.
Newsday was told among the items the police took was a laptop belonging to Scoon.
Scoon, the son of Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, hosted a “Seaside Brunch” event on the Ocean Pelican on December 26.
He claims he received the necessary permission to convert the vessel to a “floating restaurant” as a safe-zone establishment.
The exchange of letters between Scoon’s attorneys and various state agencies involved in the issue continued earlier this week.
On Monday, a representative of the Customs and Excise Division wrote to Taklalsingh saying the two special restaurant licences issued to Scoon remained null and void and the comptroller intended to cancel both. The letter said the comptroller had the power to do so and Scoon had been invited to return them.
It said it was irrelevant that Scoon had received similar licences in the past, as they had been issued when covid19 public health regulations were not in force, so different considerations applied.
Vidyah Marcial, who wrote on behalf of the acting comptroller, Bernard Nicholas, also said Nicholas had given Scoon an explanation by phone on December 30 of why the licences were not valid.
Marcial said there was nothing arbitrary about the decision to nullify and void the licences since one (Special Restaurant Licence No 48930) applied to the sale of alcohol for the MV Ocean Pelican at 25 Queen’s Park West, but “such an entity does not exist because MV Ocean Pelican is a passenger vessel and is not located at Queen’s Park West and certainly was not so located on December 26, 2021.”
The other special restaurant licence (No 28 of 2021), which allowed the sale of alcohol on a ship, was voided because of public health regulations.
Marcial also said before the licence was issued, the Minister of Finance had deferred his approval and had questioned if it was “permissible” under the covid19 regulations.
In response, Taklalsingh, who represents Scoon along with Stefan Ramkissoon and Rhea Khan, told the comptroller his letter was “confusing and misconceived.” He said there was a difference between declaring an instrument null and void and cancelling or suspending that instrument.
“We, however, note your new assertion that the comptroller ‘intends to cancel’ the document, which we consider to be an admission that the licence was validly granted and therefore any actions done pursuant to that licence were and continue to be valid up until the time of cancellation.
“We thank you for your admission in that regard.”
Taklalsingh also said in the conversation between Scoon and Nicholas on December 30, his client was told “for all intents and purposes it appears to have been properly issued.
“Mr Nicholas further stated that ‘somewhere along the line our chain of procedures seemed to have fallen apart and officers who were supposed to see stuff didn’t see stuff and it went straight to a typist.’”
He also said his client was only aware of the memorandum on the recall of the licence from Finance Minister Colm Imbert on December 3, when the latter issued a press release about it.
“It seems that you are attempting to create reasons to invalidate my client’s licence, ab initio (from the start), as opposed to simply apologising for administrative chaos and incompetence, within the Ministry of Finance and its subsidiary beyond my client’s control.
“Your new reason for cancelling my client’s licence is yet another error of law and/or misdirection in law. The licence issued to my client, which can be easily seen from the face of the licence, was issued in his personal name, as is customary with licences of this nature.”
Taklalsingh said the location at Queen’s Park West was not the intended place of business, but, as the licence clearly listed, was the address of the licensee.
He said the licence also specifically said it was granted for a "vessel" named the MV Ocean Pelican. It would be "frankly absurd," he told the comptroller, that he or the minister thought the vessel would be sailing or anchored in Queen’s Park West.
“It should be noted that all previous licences were granted in those terms and there should be no confusion that the licence was meant for a vessel on the ocean.”
The attorney also said if there was concern that there was a breach of a condition of the licence sufficient to cause its cancellation, either the comptroller or the minister ought to have given Scoon an opportunity to be heard before taking a final decision.
Taklalsingh also told the comptroller Scoon will file his application for judicial review shortly, but was awaiting responses from the Finance Minister, the Attorney General and the Minister of Health.
Scoon admitted to calling Al-Rawi when the police stopped the Boxing Day event. The AG denied giving him any advice.
Imbert said he did not authorise or approve Scoon's special restaurant licences.