UNC MP knocks AG’s office for stepping on DPP's role

Opposition MP Dinesh Rambally at a news conference held at the Opposition Leader's office, Port of Spain.  - SUREASH CHOLAI
Opposition MP Dinesh Rambally at a news conference held at the Opposition Leader's office, Port of Spain. - SUREASH CHOLAI

Opposition MP Dinesh Rambally claims that statements made by the Minister in the Office of the Attorney General Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal on making sure the people charged in the Piarco corruption matter be brought to trial "is a shocking and blatant attempt to pervert the course of justice."

Rambally, an attorney and MP for Chaguanas West, in a statement posted by the UNC on Wednesday after Sagramsingh-Sooklal hosted a press briefing at the Government Campus Plaza to give an update on the possible outcomes of the Piarco I case. She disclosed a preliminary legal opinion she solicited from attorney Kerwyn Garcia, the husband of Senate president Christine Kangaloo. Garcia's opinion listed the options available for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to pursue the case against the Piarco accused which included restarting the preliminary enquiry after 22 years before a different magistrate.

On Wednesday, DPP Roger Gaspard SC also issued a statement on the matter saying the decision to continue the matter is still under review.

"While the role of the Attorney General is one of responsibility for the administration of justice generally, it is the Director of Public Prosecutions’ role to decide whether or not to prosecute or discontinue a matter," Rambally said.

"The use of the Attorney General’s office by Senator Sagramsingh, to promulgate an unsolicited opinion as to whether or not any prosecution should continue following the decision of the Privy Council, is a vulgar use of the resources of that office. While Minister Sagramsingh was elated to let us know of her initiative to secure a host of different legal opinions on the Privy Council judgment, locally, and abroad in London and in Miami, she has not yet revealed to us the cost of such an exercise to the taxpayers."

He described Sagramsingh-Sooklal as "yet another classic example of executive overreach, interference and abuse of public office by this administration."

"Trite democratic norms, values and conventions suggest that Ministers of State ought not to influence or molest the decisions of independent officeholders. This constitutes an example of institutional capture by the executive in the worse form and is a direct attack on our democracy.

The irony of this sorry episode is that the very dangers of which the Privy Council identified in their judgement, namely the appearance of an overzealous Attorney General interfering in criminal prosecutions, is now brazenly being repeated in open defiance of the clear ruling of our nation’s highest court."

Rambally was referring to a ruling by the Privy Council on June 27, which quashed the committal proceedings against two former government ministers, a group of businesspeople, and companies charged with a series of criminal complaints arising out of the construction of the Piarco Airport terminal building more than two decades ago.

Rambally said while Sagramsingh-Sooklal "herself has pointed out that her Ministry cannot tell the DPP what to do, yet the goal of her conference was to reassure the population that they are doing their best to ensure that the matter does not slip away from their hands into oblivion. The paradox escapes her."

"Apart from the merits or demerits of the case, any right thinking citizen must condemn, in the strongest possible terms, this bold, and undemocratic attempt to influence the decision of the DPP in relation to these proceedings. To do otherwise would undermine or render the Rule of Law nugatory.

Minister in the Office of the Attorney General Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal at a media briefing, Government Campus Plaza, Port of Spain on Wednesday. - SUREASH CHOLAI

The DPP has indicated that he is prepared to give mature consideration to pertinent matters as he is required to make an independent determination in respect of the continuance of the matter or otherwise, based on the many factors that would be brought to bear in so doing. It is hoped that this will remind the embattled Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs, the boundaries of its own remit."

Sagramsingh-Sooklal said on Wednesday she will look at the UNC's statement before responding.

On May 2, a US judge automatically disqualified Attorney General Reginald Armour SC as the chief litigant against the former government minister Brian Kuei Tung and others charged in a multi-million-dollar civil asset forfeiture case dragging on for the past 18 years.

The judge disqualified Armour as well as the US law firm Sequor Law based on Armour's previous role as a defence attorney for Kuei Tung and the fact that he had discussions with the firm after disclosing his conflict of interest. Armour claimed he had a lapse in memory about his role as Kuei Tung's lawyer and was never afforded an opportunity to correct the court's record. He had claimed in a sworn affidavit that he was a junior lawyer, who did minimal research and took notes 14 years ago. The public record shows Armour's deeper involvement as a senior counsel for the defendants.

The state has appealed the decision to strike out the law firm but not the decision to disqualify Armour.

Armour was appointed on March 16 to replace Faris Al-Rawi as Attorney General in a surprise Cabinet reshuffle. Al-Rawi has taken over Armour's role in the Miami case as this country's client representative and had been pursuing the US claim for over seven years before.

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