Opposition Parliamentarian and Former Housing Minister, Irfaan Ali Wednesday declared that he is “more resolute” after facing 19 counts of fraud.
Ali was charged with conspiracy to defraud the State of over $170M from September 2010 to March 2015. The charges were brought against him by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) in relation to the sale of 19 plots of land at Sparendaam, East Coast Demerara –an area known as Pradoville 2.
“This has made me stronger, I am more resolute, I am standing on stronger foundation to fight this dictatorship, to fight this injustice,” Ali told the media after exiting the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court where he appeared before Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan.
Ali, who believes the move is one intent on silencing the Opposition, declared that “no form of political victimization” or pressure from the Government will silence the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).
“I believe firmly injustice, I believe in trusting the Creator,” he added.
The charges alleged that Ali conspired with persons unknown to defraud the Government of varying sums of money ranging from $5M to $29.7M when he “acted recklessly” in presenting the value of the state lands at prices ranging from $1M to $7M.
“During my tenure, with the help of staff and the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government, we have distributed more than 100,000 house lots… so maybe it should have been 100,000 charges then for every house lot that is given,” he argued.
The Former Housing Minister was arrested at about 04:30hrs on Wednesday at a house in Georgetown and transported to SOCU by a jeep load of police officers. He was subsequently taken to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) where his fingerprints and photo were taken.
After about six hours, Ali was escorted to the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court where he appeared before the Chief Magistrate who read the charges to him.
While SOCU Prosecutor Patrice Henry lobbied for Ali to be placed on bail, Attorneys representing the Opposition MP, Anil Nandlall, Priya Manickchand and Davendra Kissoon argued that their client is not a flight risk and has been cooperating with SOCU from the inception of the investigation.
As such, they noted that bail is not required to ensure that he reappears in court.
The SOCU Prosecutor argued that given the accused is a Member of Parliament, there may be clashes with his court date and Ali may be forced to choose his job as an MP over that of the court proceedings.
However, Nandlall said that this is not a valid argument since the sitting of the National Assembly is occasional.
The Chief Magistrate, after listening to both sides, released Ali on self-bail and adjourned the case to January 07, 2019.
Ali’s lawyers, who are also members of the political opposition, believe the charges were filed as a direct result of the No-Confidence motion filed against the Government.
Nandlall told the media that the move by SOCU was predictable since it was reported in the media two months ago.
“The timing of it is very essential. We are about to start our Budget debate (and) we have a no-confidence motion that is pending in the House.
“This thing has been in the air for about two years about charging Irfaan (Ali) for these offences… …these speak to a pre-meditated and orchestrated attempt,” Nandlall said.
He also believes that himself and Ali along with other PPP/C members are being tracked and traced on a daily basis. This, he said, is confirmed by the fact that Ali was arrested at a residence other than his home in the early hours of the morning.
Manickchand said, “nobody is afraid of this.”
To the Government, the PPP/C MP said: “this will be met with lawful but equal force.”
The controversial lots include two plots of land sold to Former President and current Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo which the court heard was sold at $2.3M and 7.5M when in fact they are valued at $10.6M and $34.7M.
Others were sold to: Former Minister of Natural Resources Robert Persaud, who reportedly paid $1,515,000 for a lot valued at $11,878,812; Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee who paid $1.1M for a $6.6M lot; Public Service Minister Jennifer Westford who bought a $7,383,211 lot for $1,593,000; Education Minister Sheik Baksh who paid $1,500,000 for a $7,021,698 plot of land; Director of Public Prosecutions Shalimar Ali-Hack, who paid $1,488,744 for a plot of land valued at $7,123,354.
In the court documents, it was noted that Persaud has since sold his land to a private company.
Also mentioned were the daughter of former President Donald Ramotar – Lisaveta Ramotar – who purchased a lot valued at $7,021,691 was sold to the tune of $1,515,000 and Dr. Roger Luncheon, former Cabinet Secretary, purchased a plot of land for $1,502,500 when it is in fact valued at $6.9M.
Among others named were former Army Chief of Staff Gary Best; former President of the Caribbean Development Bank Dr Compton Bourne; former Private Sector Commission chairman Ramesh Dookhoo; former Chief Executive Officer of Guyana Sugar Corporation Rajendra Singh; former Chief Executive of Lands and Surveys Commission Andrew Bishop; son of former Minister Nanda Gopaul, Ghansham Singh and Kamini Singh; and former Middle East envoy George Hallaq.
Some of these persons were also questioned by SOCU during the course of the investigation which stemmed from a forensic audit into the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA).