TODAY is D-Day for Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday. Today is the day when Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls will rule whether Panday is guilty or not guilty for knowingly failing to declare a London bank account to the Integrity Commission — an account he shared with his wife Oma.
This is the second time that Panday, as Leader of the Opposition, has had to sit in the dock of a court and anxiously await a magistrate’s ruling to determine his destiny.
In 1995, Panday was charged with several offences at the Couva Magistrates’ Court. The evidence and submissions were completed before the November 1995 general elections. Magistrate Anthony Mohipp did not rule before the elections. Panday became prime minister after the NAR, with their two seats, joined with the UNC’s 17 to form a coalition government.
Days after Panday was sworn in, Mohipp ruled in favour of the new prime minister and that was the end of the matter.
This time, Panday is again the Opposition Leader, but the offences were allegedly committed when he was prime minister.
It is alleged that Panday knowingly failed to declare to the Integrity Commission, for the years 1997, 1998, and 1999, that he had a Nat West bank account in London with his wife Oma.
Panday was charged on September 18, 2002 by Asssistant Commissioner of Police Wellington Virgil. But the summary trial did not start until March 20, this year, as Panday mounted a number of legal challenges to his prosecution.
He took it all the way to the Privy Council which, on February 16, dismissed a judicial review case and paved the way for the criminal trial to begin.
The trial began in the Port-of-Spain Eighth Magistrates’ Court before a packed public gallery and bar table. Both sides brought in English lawyers who ensured there was a smooth flow of the trial. A number of Panday’s political colleagues were present at the hearing but noticeably absent was his wife. The main witnesses for the prosecution were Albert Alkins, registrar of the Integrity Commission,
Virgil, and a female bank official from Nat West Bank in London. These witnesses were called by lead prosecutor, British Queen’s Counsel Sir Timothy Cassel.
Panday gave evidence and said he did not know he had to declare that account, because “it was not mine.” As far as he was concerned, that account belonged to Oma. When asked about a ?119,183 (TT$1.2 million) deposit from CLICO chairman Lawrence Duprey in 1997, Panday said he did not know about the money until he was charged in 2002.
He said he was informed by his wife that the money came from Duprey as a scholarship for two of his daughters, Mikela and Nicola, who were studying law in England.
Then the big surprise came when Duprey gave evidence on behalf of Panday.
During his testimony, Duprey said the money he gave to Oma was not a scholarship, but financial assistance. At the end of the six-day trial, Mc Nicolls said he needed time to give his ruling and adjourned it for three weeks.
If found guilty, Panday faces a $20,000 fine and, or, two years imprisonment on each charge under the Integrity in Public Life Act 1987.