Chairman of the inquiry, Professor John Uff, yesterday revealed that Hart’s attorneys, including Frank Solomon SC and Devesh Maharaj, have indicated they will not cross-examine Khan on the basis of three sworn statutory declarations which Khan has filed. Khan, who had been carded to testify in the public inquiry proceedings, will as such not be called to the stand this week.
As a result, Uff also ruled that Khan’s declarations, which detail family links between Mrs Sherrine Hart and Sunway Construction Caribbean Limited, will now stand uncontested as part of the evidence in the inquiry.
“Attorneys for Mr Calder Hart have stated that they would not be seeking to cross-examine either Mr Carl Khan or (former Udecott CEO) Mr Winston Agard,” Uff said yesterday morning in an opening statement at the Winsure Building at Richmond Street, Port-of-Spain. “Therefore, neither of these witnesses will be called and their evidence will stand as evidence before the inquiry.”
The fourth phase of hearings were to deal with issues surrounding Khan’s depositions as well as the Cleaver Heights housing project. As such, the hearings will now focus on that project, which has been at the centre of allegations between Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley.
The chairman’s ruling will be regarded as a blow to the Udecott board amidst increased public scrutiny of its affairs. In three statutory declarations Khan has sworn that Sunway directors Alan Lee Hup Ming and David Ng Chin Poh are the brother and brother-in-law respectively of Mrs Hart. Khan has provided first-hand recollection of Mrs Hart’s relations, as well as postal exhibits and even a copy of a love letter sent from her to Khan from an address which links her to Alan Lee Hup Ming.
To date the Harts have not publically addressed any of the evidence filed in the commission of inquiry by Khan. At the same time, Mr Hart, through sworn testimony, has responded to other evidence which had initially linked him to Sunway. For instance, he attributed the coincidental fact that his personal fax number was used by Sunway on their company correspondence to a “computer error”. The issue was central to the fact that a fax trail for that number linked his home in Cascade to the company.
While the Harts have remained silent on Khan’s claims, their lawyers in May “denied the matters stated in Khan’s declarations” according to a statement posted on the inquiry website. As such, their decision to not cross-examine Khan will be viewed by some as a significant concession.
Khan’s evidence also formed the basis of a letter of allegations that was issued to Mrs Hart which called on her to respond to the evidence and to possibly attend the inquiry proceedings. Mrs Hart is said to have not responded to the letter of charges and the need for her to attend the proceedings, given the concession to Khan’s evidence, is now in question.
Last Friday, Caroni East MP Dr Tim Gopeesingh alleged that attorneys for Attorney General John Jeremie and attorneys for the inquiry formed a pact to prevent Mrs Hart from being called to testify in the proceedings. To date the issue is yet to be denied by the commission or the Government. Jeremie last Friday however brushed aside Gopeesingh’s allegation, saying the commission can “handle its business”.
In the wake of Uff’s ruling yesterday, Rowley once more called on the Government to immediately remove Mr Hart from his post at Udecott. “This morning’s development simply deepens this scandal,” Rowley said outside of the Winsure Building yesterday. “We cannot have an individual chairing agencies, enjoying Cabinet support, spending Cabinet money while a commission of inquiry receives information of the nature of Mr Carl Khan’s testimony.”
“The commission has provided adequate opportunity for the testimony of Carl Khan to be tested by cross-examination. No person, including Mr Calder Hart, has indicated or taken any opportunity to cross-examine Mr Carl Khan’s testimony.
“In the face of this development...the Prime Minister should act immediately and remove Mr Calder Hart as chairman of Udecott and chairman of other state agencies where he now functions,” Rowley said. “Such a person should not be enjoying the positions of authority as chairman of these agencies and should not be enjoying the protection and support of the Prime Minister.” Rowley noted the evidence raised the issue of the possible contravention of the Integrity in Public Life Act and the Prevention of Corruption Act.
President of the Joint Consultative Council (JCC) Winston Riley, who has called on Mrs Hart to take the stand in light of the evidence filed by Khan, yesterday warned that the concession by Mr Hart’s lawyers may be part of an effort to temper the controversy over the affairs of the Harts.
“I am not surprised that the Carl Khan issue is not contested because that issue if ventilated in open court would bring all the negatives with respect to the Harts back into focus,” Riley said.
At the same time he noted that Uff’s ruling now underlines the need for the relevant state authorities to take action. “This now means that the matter should be before the police or Director of Public Prosecutions. The big issue is now whether the relevant agencies will do their work. The uncontested evidence is now in the public domain.”