Two serving Opposition Parliamentarians and a former Deputy Permanent Secretary were among six persons charged on Friday for a multi-million-dollar fraud at the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), dating as far back as 2011.
The former GRDB Board members were slapped with five separate charges totaling over $400 million to which they were not required to enter a plea.
Despite applications for the accused to be released on self-bail, they were placed on $500,000 bail each by Chief Magistrate Ann Mclennan and ordered to lodge their passports.
This is in addition to the $100,000 station bail each of the accused would have already paid.
Appearing in the prisoner’s dock at the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court to answer to the charges were People’s Progressive Party Members of Parliament Dharamkumar Seeraj and Nigel Dharamlall along with GRDB head Ricky Ramraj, former General Manager Jagnarine Singh, former GRDB board member Badrie Persaud and Former Ministry of Agriculture Deputy Permanent Secretary, Prema Roopnarine.
The Court heard that the six-accused conspired to omit entering different sums of money into a ledger at the GRDB Cowan Street location.
The first charge dates back to 2011 and involves a $52 million omission while a second charge read that in 2012 the then Board members also conspired and omitted to enter the sum of $77.3 million into the ledger.
The other chargers span the years 2014 and 2015 and included a $130 million omission, a $9.7 million omission and a $145 million omission.
Dharamlall was only charged in relation to the 2011 and 2012 omission while the others were slapped with all five charges.
The Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) brought the charges against the six persons following investigations over the last year. Those investigations were prompted by the findings of a forensic audit.
Appearing in defence of the accused were Attorneys Priya Manickchand, Anil Nandlall, Sase Gunraj and Glenn Hanoman.
All of the Attorneys asked that their clients be released either on their own recognizance or reasonable bail as the prosecution requested more time for the filing of statements.
Mr. Nandlall argued that the charges do not relate to any missing money but rather to an omission to make an entry into a ledger.
He said that is largely a clerical function and the Board Members should not be held responsible for it. He reasoned that the error is miniscule and that the Auditor General, a Chartered Accountant and the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament did not raise any red flags.
Nandlall also questioned why from a Board of 15 members, only six were identified to be charged.
He believes the charges are selective and vindictive.
Nandlall also accused the prosecution of being harsh and oppressive in its bail application as calls were made for the accused to lodge their passports and report to SOCU every Monday.
“These are not school children… SOCU doesn’t have supervisory authority over them,” Nandlall told the Magistrate as he pointed out that each of the accused were already on $100,000 station bail.
Making the final determination in the matter, Magistrate Mclennan adjourned the matter until June 22 and ordered each of the accused to lodge their passports and post bail of $500,000 each. (by Kurt Campbell)