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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

In the face of clear evidence, his guilt is irrefutable...

We've been clamouring as a people for justice and for persons to pay for the crimes that they commit. So something I can't understand is the breadth of the range of responses to the Panday verdict and sentence.

When you look at the facts of the case, the gentleman could be nothing but guilty, and the penalties written into the law prepared and passed during his own reign as Prime Minister have been applied by the magistrate.

Firstly, the law stated that he, as a sitting member of Parliament, must declare all his assets annually, whether worth one dollar or a billion dollars.

Secondly, the account in London was in his name, which is an irrefutable fact. That the account contained 1.6 million dollars is immaterial, but simply adds to the drama.

The former Prime Minister knew that the account existed, admitting in court to have written at least one cheque on the account that he claims was managed by his wife. He therefore was a knowing account holder and never took steps himself to remove his name from the account.

That he did not declare the account for three years puts him in contravention of the law. It's cut and dry.

That he knew that the account existed means that he could not even claim innocence. Other sitting MPs and senators have made errors in their submissions with respect to this law, and have made changes to their submissions when their oversights were discovered. This too came out in court during the hearings, as the defence attempted to show that Panday was not the only one who presented incomplete submissions. Panday, however, made no such correction or re-submission, according to what was revealed in the case.

Consequently, he is guilty of making a false declaration for the three years under scrutiny in the case. Based on his statements this weekend gone, that the law and the courts must be respected, Panday too knew that the judgement would likely not go his way.

Sentencing is something that seemed to have surprised a lot of people here. The fact that he was a Prime Minister of the country and a long-serving politician does not exempt him from justice. Based on the manner in which the law was written, there was a maximum penalty that could be applied for each infraction, and this was applied. The magistrate used his able discretion to apply sentence, in his comments stating that Mr. Panday clearly sought to hide the account and had to know of its existence. See Trinidad Newsday story "London bank account - Panday jailed for two years" for details.

The judgement is going to be appealled, as sure as night follows day, and the sentence will likely be reduced. In my view, the magistrate did well to impose the maximum, especially since it likely be lessened by the Appeal Court. Time will tell how much time Panday actually spends behind bars, and how out of pocket he will be when the fines are finally applied. Now I am no legal mind, but it makes sense to me that the most likely component of the judgement to be overturned is the order to seize the stated value of the contents of the London account. But all that is left to be seen as the legal system continues to run its course.

However, the case was cut and dry. The verdict was cut and dry. Panday is guilty as charged, and he must stand the consequences of his actions.

His being a former Prime Minister does not make him any more special than any of the rest of the population. He is not exempt from the rule of law. I find it an insane suggestion that leniency should be extended because of who he is. In the eyes of the law, he is guilty and the applicable penalties written into a law are to be applied.

It is with great interest though that I now watch and wait for the proceedings of matters against sitting PNM MPs Franklin Khan and Eric Williams.

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