Eventually, the main opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) which had governed Guyana between 1992 and 2015 will allege that the administration of President David Granger is systematically bringing criminal corruption charges against its former cabinet ministers and top executives so as to deliberately win convictions and cripple them from participating in the 2020 general elections.
The party’s 23-year tenure in office had been dogged by credible domestic and international allegations of widespread corruption, entrenched links with the criminal underworld, including local drug kingpins, and of shaking down both local and international investors for large sums in exchange for state contracts and other awards.
The party has vehemently denied these allegations which had come from western embassies, civil society, local media and a slew of other stakeholders.
Now in its third year in opposition, its leaders are beginning to feel the heat of two state agencies which have been investigating alleged criminal wrongdoing since the party lost power to the APNU-AFC alliance three years ago.
On Tuesday of this week, former finance minister Ashni Singh, 45, and former Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited, Winston Brassington, 50, were charged criminally with misconduct in public office linked to allegations that they had deliberately sold off prime seaside state land to friends of the PPP cheaply. Brassington had headed up an agency which had full control over state assets, everything from buildings to state lands.
Both men had moved overseas once the PPP had lost power. Both appeared in the country on Tuesday and were immediately hauled before the courts.
Authorities say several other top officials, cabinet ministers, including former president Bharrat Jagdeo will eventually join Singh and Brassington in criminal courts for conduct linked to their time while in office, especially for the period between 1999-2015 when Jagdeo was president or when Jagdeo was the power behind PPP cabinets.
One of the main elements of the charges, that could land them jail time between one and five years, has to do with accusations by the Special Organized Crimes Unit (SOCU) that they had calculatedly bypassed a mandatory valuation of the land before selling it local and CARICOM investors cheaply.
Handcuffed behind their backs and forced to move from the courtroom to the ground level police detention center through a dark, damp prisoner “chute” used by common criminals, the two were placed on a total of $30,000 bail each and ordered to reappear in court on June 5th. The court turned down requests from defense attorneys for self bail, citing the fact that they men had returned voluntarily and are known figures.
But the printing ink had hardly dried on editions of the four daily newspapers on Wednesday, when SOCU ordered the two to turn up at its headquarters on Wednesday to answer questions about a string of other deals made while in office. SOCU Head Sydney James said that additional criminal charges are expected in the coming days and the two could be in handcuffs once again, humiliated and embarrassed like common criminals.
While SOCU is forcing them to explain activities while in office, the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA), set up just days after general elections in 2015, is moving against the same group of politicians and business associates to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and assets allegedly stolen during the time of the PPP.
SARA is focusing on recovering cash value for a large plot of land Jagdeo and other PPP top officials had given to themselves to build palatial seaside homes just five miles east of the city. Some former cabinet ministers have publicly opted to settle the matter quietly.
Any criminal convictions against Jagdeo and others would work against them being elected to parliament or cabinet. PPP officials are already suspicious about the timing of the indictments as the country prepares for local government elections around November and the 2020 elections. Guyana is expected to become an oil producer before the country goes to the polls. Much is at stake.
“These charges (public misconduct) are the first of its kind in the country,” said lead attorney Anil Nandlall. For his part, Singh said “I have no fear about the discharge of my duties being subjected to scrutiny.”