Former Trinidad PM Basdeo Panday to face retrial

By Paras Ramoutar, IANS

Port of Spain : Former Trinidad and Tobago prime minister Basdeo Panday will face retrial on charges of failing to declare financial assets as a public servant.

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Panday had been convicted in April 2006 on three charges of failing to declare an estimated $320,000 in a London bank account to the country’s Integrity Commission. He was sentenced to two years of imprisonment, fined $10,000 and ordered to pay the state $320,000.

But the conviction was quashed March 20, 2007 on the basis of an apparent bias by Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls who adjudicated in the matter. Trinidad and Tobago’s Appeal Court later ordered a retrial.

Panday’s attorneys went to the British Privy Council to get the matter struck out, arguing that the time allowed by law to prosecute the former prime minister had already passed.

However, the Privy Council Thursday ordered the retrial.

In a judgment, Lord Brown, a British law lord, rejected the argument that the “bringing of the charges against Panday under the Integrity in Public Life Act 1987, was time-barred”.

Speaking on behalf of other law lords Hoffman, Scott, Walker and Neuberger, Lord Brown said the argument was absurdly far fetched.

“The appellant has, quite rightly, had his conviction quashed. But the question of his conviction restores the appellant to the position he was in before the unfair trial. Why should his success gain him immunity from a fair trial upon charges properly brought?” the law lords contended.

Panday became the first Indo-Trinidadian prime minister in 1995 just as the Indian diaspora here celebrated its 150th anniversary of the first arrival of peasants from India’s Uttar Pradesh and Bihar between 1845 and 1917.

In 2006, he was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs.

Just two weeks ago, Panday was suspended from the House of Representatives for disobeying Speaker Barry Sinanan’s order to desist from using a laptop while the house was in session. He has been suspended from attending further sitting of the house until the present session ends in December.