March 4 set for commencement of election fraud trial

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Top row, from left – Volda Lawrence, Keith Lowenfield, Denise Babb-Cummings, and Michelle Miller. Bottom row, from left – Enrique Livan, Sheffern February, Clairmont Mingo, and Carol Smith-Joseph [Some of the individuals facing charges in relation to electoral fraud]

From March 4–8, in the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts, the prosecution will commence leading evidence in support of the dozens of fraud charges resulting from the March 2020 General and Regional Elections, over three years after the Police first filed complaints.

Leron Daly will be the presiding magistrate.

The defendants are former District Four (Demerara-Mahaica) Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo; former People’s National Congress/Reform (PNCR) Chairperson Volda Lawrence; PNCR activist Carol Smith-Joseph; former Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield; former Deputy Chief Elections Officer Roxanne Myers; and Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) employees Sheffern February, Enrique Livan, Denise Babb-Cummings and Michelle Miller.

They are accused of a number of offences, including misconduct while holding public office, presenting falsified documentation, and planning to manipulate Guyana’s voters by presenting an inaccurate vote total. These charges stemmed from attempts to rig the 2020 General and Regional Elections in favour of the then-ruling APNU/AFC. These accused persons are all out on cash bail.

Lead prosecutor Darshan Ramdhani, KC informed the court during another hearing on Monday that “we are ready to commence leading evidence by the end of this month .”“We have been ready to start from the day the charges were filed because these charges are imaginary,” retorted defence attorney Nigel Hughes. Thick bundles of statements were signed and lifted by the defendants, all of whom were present in court.

Additionally, the first week of April and the first week of May have been designated for hearing additional testimony. All of the matters have been consolidated.

Over 80 witnesses are slated to testify on behalf of the prosecution.

The fixing of the trial date comes days after Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC bemoaned the pace at which the matters were being handled by the court.

During his year-end press conference, the Attorney General addressed the issue and lamented the time it was taking to move forward with a trial. “After three years, those charges have not been able to secure a trial date. Now I am the Minister of Justice. I cannot be pleased with this state of affairs. No decent-minded Guyanese can be pleased with this state of affairs. And I wish to make it abundantly clear that these are not politically driven or inspired charges.”

“These are charges that relate to the misconduct of the electoral process by persons who have been appointed and paid by the taxpayers of this country, to manage that process and ensure that the process meets the imperative of transparency, legality, and fairness,” Nandlall said.

Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), had requested the assistance of the Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, to expedite the proceedings by designating particular Magistrates to oversee the cases.

The election report of former CEO Keith Lowenfield claimed that the APNU/AFC coalition garnered 171,825 votes, while the PPP/C gained 166,343 votes. How he arrived at those figures is still unknown, since the certified results from the recount exercise supervised by GECOM and a high-level team from the Caribbean Community (Caricom) pellucidly showed that the PPP/C won with 233,336 votes, while the coalition garnered 217,920.

The recount exercise also highlighted that Mingo had heavily inflated the figures in Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica)— Guyana’s largest voting District — in favour of the then-caretaker APNU/AFC regime which had been defeated by a no-confidence motion passed in the National Assembly on December 21, 2018. In August 2021, GECOM voted to terminate the employment of Keith Lowenfield, Roxanne Myers, and Clairmont Mingo. The firing of these officials was met with much satisfaction by various stakeholders including the Government, which hailed it as a step in the right direction to restoring public confidence in GECOM.