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Deposits from T&T, Guyana, Canada, London
By CAMINI MARAJH, Express TT
Sums totalling over £550,000 (TT$5.5 million) were deposited in a joint London bank account held by former prime minister Basdeo Panday and his wife, Oma, during the period November 28, 1997, to October 5, 2001.
Documents obtained by the Sunday Express show a string of deposits made into the Pandays’ private account at National Westminster Bank in Wimbledon, London, including a £20,000 wire transfer on July 2, 1998, by UNC MP for St Joseph and former works minister Carlos John.
John was unavailable for comment yesterday but sources close to him, in a June report in the Express, had said that the payment to the Pandays’ account was to “facilitate a change of residence” for John’s daughter, Candice.
The London account, now under the scrutiny of law enforcement authorities, was initially held by Mrs Panday and contained a balance of just over £100,000 up to the time her husband, then the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, was made a signatory to the account.
The Sunday Express understands that the account built up to £1 million in deposits, dipped down, picked up and then levelled off in the £500,000 range. Sources, speaking on condition of strict anonymity, said funds were routinely transferred out of the joint account at National Westminster to another account called “Diamond Reserve”.
According to information reaching the Sunday Express, deposits made to the Pandays’ account originated from here, Guyana, Canada and London, among other places, all stops Panday made on a recent fund-raising tour.
The probe into the former prime minister’s financial dealings in London has also turned up two other accounts at the National Westminster Wimbledon branch, said sources who disclosed that the authorities were looking at accounts held in Mrs Panday’s maiden name, Oma Ramkissoon, and another in the name of Nicola Panday, one of Panday’s two daughters living in a controversial Kensington apartment.
Panday has consistently dismissed claims of wrongdoing on his failure to declare the London account and has said publicly that he has nothing to hide. Yesterday he refused to discuss the account, declaring that he would “reveal all” as promised, at a public meeting in Couva on Tuesday.
Asked about the “Diamond Reserve”, Panday said: “I will be speaking on that on Tuesday.” He declined further comment but sources said some tax questions may arise for his wife, who is listed as a housewife and has no visible means of income.
But long before Panday promised to tell all, he faced difficult questions from the Integrity Commission about the details of his London account. Panday struggled to explain why the account was not declared to the parliamentary watchdog agency as required by the Integrity legislation. He countered that his wife was the “beneficial owner” and that he was made a signatory to the account in the event that something happened to her.
“Being a mere signatory to an account to facilitate the provision of money to our children, I didn’t consider that to be part of my assets,” Panday told the Sunday Express in May. He failed to meet the commission’s deadline for responding to questions and sought an extension until his return from London.
The Integrity Commission, headed by retired judge Gerard des Iles, after deliberating on the substantive matter, voted to turn the file over to Director of Public Prosecutions Geoffrey Henderson for his attention last Thursday.
The DPP, who was in his office yesterday reviewing the file, said that the matter would be “expeditiously dealt with like all other matters.”
Sources said if arrested on failure to disclose charges, the Panday matter could be determined in a matter of weeks in the local courts because of the personality involved and the nature of the case. Panday faces up to ten years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine if he were to be convicted under the Integrity in Public Life Act which was passed by his administration.
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