Presidential Advisor and former Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, retired Rear Admiral Gary Best was today questioned by investigators of the Special Organised Crime Unit who are probing the Pradoville Two land acquisition scandal.
Best was the Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force when he said he was offered and bought land in the Sparendaam area, that would later become known as Pradoville Two.
Speaking to reporters after questioning at SOCU’s Camp Street headquarters on Friday, Best said that an offer was made to him by the then Peoples’ Progressive Party (PPP) government for a parcel of land at Sparendaam, which he then applied for and was subsequently granted.
“There was a Government of Guyana offered process for lands at Sparendaam. The government made that information [offer] indirectly available to me. They said they have an area identified for additional government housing. I didn’t know that would become the infamous Pradoville Two. It was just Sparendaam at the time” he said.
Best related that as the former Army Chief, he would have attended meetings and had dialogues and somewhere in that process, “the government would have said we’re having a new housing scheme”.
The (rtd) Rear Admiral said that after the offer was made to him, he applied for the land and his application was successful.
“I took advantage of it at the time. I applied after I would have learnt about that [Sparendaam]” he added.
Best is the first on record to reveal that he would have applied for the land after an offer was made by the then government.
Several others who own lands at Pradoville, including former Private Sector Chairman, Ramesh Dookhoo and former Education Minister, Priya Manickchand have said that they were never told about the lands being available before they applied.
The former Army Chief said too that he was invited by the law enforcement agency to field questions about the circumstances which lead to his acquisition of a parcel of land at Pradoville. He said that he explained the process to investigators who did not request any form of supporting documentation.
The Presidential Advisor explained that his interrogation was an “inquiry” which is connected to other things that SOCU is investigating.
“There are three levels to an investigation; those who manage the assets, those who made decisions about the assets and persons who just bought the house lots having no knowledge of who was managing or not managing the assets. I’m at that last level” Best told reporters.
Meanwhile, his Attorney, Bernard DeSantos said that it would be a violation of the contract which exist between Best and the Government for the land.
“Speaking for myself, the answer to that is negative because that was a free contract entered into by this gentleman, like any other contract. Why should he pay more because somebody decides that the land values more?” DeSantos questioned.
Asked if he forsees charges being laid against Best, the attorney said, “Charged for what? Being a good citizen?”
Beneficiaries of lands at Pradoville are being questioned by SOCU after it was realized that the lands there were sold at prices significantly lower than the market value. An audited report had valued the plots of land at $82.5M, but some were sold by the then Jagdeo administration for as little as $1.5M.
Some of the beneficiaries include Opposition Leader and former President Bharrat Jagdeo; former Ministers Irfaan Ali, Priya Manickchand, Robert Persaud, Clement Rohee, Jennifer Westford and Nanda Gopaul; Director of Public Prosecutions, Shalimar Ali-Hack; Ghansham Singh, son of Nanda Gopaul; Lisa Ramotar, daughter of former President Donald Ramotar and Compton Bourne former President of the Caribbean Development Bank.