The option of a settlement for subjects of the ‘Pradoville 2’ investigation is one for the police and not government, according to President David Granger, who also says that the arrest of former president Bharrat Jagdeo was unjustified.
Granger addressed the investigation, which dominated the headlines last week, during the weekly interview programme ‘The Public Interest,’ which was broadcast on Friday.
Jagdeo is one of about a dozen persons who benefited from the purchase of the undervalued parcels of land in the ‘Pradoville 2’ housing scheme and who are now subjects of an investigation by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).
It was former People’s Progressive Party/Civic minister Robert Persaud who last Thursday hinted that he would be ready to settle the price difference with the state, if it proves that the land was sold to him for an undervalued price.
Asked whether the government is open to the former PPP/C cabinet members and others who benefited from the scheme to settle, Granger made it clear that government has no say in that. “I have not intervened. My government is not giving instructions to the police force,” he said.
Granger noted that it is up to SOCU to determine whether a crime has been committed and how to handle such an investigation. He said too that the Guyana Police Force has a legal advisor, so “I can’t answer that question.”
Persaud, then the Minister of Agriculture, had bought the 0.3030 acre of land located at Sparendaam, East Coast of Demerara in 2007 for $1.5M. Five years later, he sold the property, which was uncompleted at the time, for $90M.
“My legal advisor has indicated that should the state prove that the price paid for the plot of land was below market value, discussions can be entered into for a mutually acceptable resolution of the matter,” Persaud said in a Facebook post on Thursday, two days after he was arrested and questioned.
Meanwhile, Granger was also asked about the arrest of Jagdeo by SOCU officials about an hour after former Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon was held. The former president was arrested last Tuesday at his Church Street office and taken to SOCU’s Headquarters on Camp Street.
Granger had indicated his displeasure at the arrest during a meeting with the former president and others on the following day at State House, where a meeting to discuss pressing issues was being held.
Granger said on the programme that he did express regret “personally to Mr. Jagdeo. I did not feel that his personal arrest was justified in the circumstances but I did not overrule the right of the police force to conduct an investigation or to invite people of any rank to go to SOCU Headquarters. It is not possible for SOCU to visit every single former minister.” SOCU is a department of the Guyana Police Force.
“I do feel that at the level of a [former] Head of State the matter could have been handled differently. I did not intervene. I did not order the investigation and I only expressed my view because of my personal relationship to a former president but the police must be allowed to do their job and if their duties require them to invite persons who were accused of certain offences or who have information to provide, I think they should be allowed to do that without interference. I did not interfere and I will not interfere with the investigation but it is impossible for SOCU to go around the country trying to get private interviews because of the perceived rank of any person they are interested in,” he noted.
However, Granger stated that different arrangements could have been made for Jagdeo given that he is a former president. “I believe that in the instance of the former president alone, that an exemption could have been made but as I said I don’t interfere with the police work and I think that they acted properly, generally speaking, with regards to the other ministers,” he said. “…It is my view that some other way could have been used to determine whether his presence at the headquarters was necessary and that could have been done by the phone or by a visit,” he added, while noting that if after a visit it was felt that it was necessary for him to go to the SOCU Headquarters, “I wouldn’t have no objection to that.”
Granger denied the opposition’s claim that Jagdeo’s arrest was part of a political witch-hunt, while making it clear that the detention wasn’t ordered by any political official.
The president noted that he is very careful and respectful of what he says of and to former heads of state. “It is a matter of political culture,” he stressed.
SOCU has been mandated to conduct criminal investigations based on the findings of a forensic audit into the sale of land at ‘Pradoville 2,’ which is located at Sparendaam, East Coast Demerara.
In addition to Jagdeo and Luncheon, Persaud, Lisaveta Ramotar, who is the General Manager of the Guyana Gold Board and daughter of former president Donald Ramotar, Ramesh Dookhoo, former Chairman of the Private Sector Commission, and Dr Ghansham Singh who were also beneficiaries of house lots in the scheme, were also arrested and questioned on Tuesday before being released without charge. Marcia Nadir-Sharma, former Deputy Director of state holding company, NICIL was also questioned.
The following day seven others—former prime minister Samuel Hinds, former housing minister Irfaan Ali, former home minister Clement Rohee, former education minister Priya Manickchand, former Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Water Incorporated Shaik Baksh, former labour minister Nanda Gopaul and former public service minister Dr Jennifer Westford—were questioned by SOCU. On Thursday, former presidential press officer Kwame McCoy and former head of the Office for Climate Change Andrew Bishop were questioned, while on Friday Director of Public Prosecutions Shalimar Ali-Hack and her husband, Moeen ul-Hack, as well as former Chief-of- Staff of the Guyana Defence Force Gary Best were questioned.