By Caribbean News Now contributor
GEORGETOWN, Guyana -- According to one of the lawyers acting for the plaintiffs in a civil action in Guyana contesting the validity of a will in a multimillion US dollar estate, the document in question is a fake.
“The will is a fake,” attorney Khemraj Ramjattan was heard to tell Chief Justice Ian Chang in passing, when exiting the court room in Georgetown last week. Although the trial of the matter has been handed over to Justice Roxanne George, in 2010 Chang heard an initial application in the case.
The action in question relates to the estate of the late Yusuf Mongroo, a well-known Trinidadian businessman who owned a lucrative off-track betting facility known as Horseshoe Racing Service in Georgetown, Guyana. Following his death in August 2010, a number of allegations of theft and fraud from his estate have been made.
In particular, in a case that has been ongoing well over three years, the genuineness of Mongroo’s signature on what purports to be his will leaving his Guyana estate to a cashier at Horseshoe Racing and a domestic helper has been vigorously contested.
In 2010, the chief justice declined to grant an injunction sought by the plaintiffs in relation to the running of Horseshoe Racing and instead ruled that audited monthly statements should be produced in relation to its operations and made available to the plaintiffs. However, this order appears to have been largely ignored, since only one such statement has reportedly been produced in the ensuing three years.
Allegations of a conflict of interest have been made against Chang because, at one time, the cashier/beneficiary’s sister was said to have worked for him as a maid. In addition, in an unusual later development, Chang reportedly granted an ex parte injunction against local media preventing the republication of allegations of theft and fraud in the case by defence attorney, Ralph Ramkarran.
However, Glenn Parmassar, a forensic document examiner and handwriting expert called by the plaintiffs, last week dropped something of a bombshell on the proceedings when he declared that a document presented to the court as the original will was in fact merely a copy and, as such, could not be used definitively to verify the authenticity of the document or the genuineness of the disputed signature.
This appeared to catch one of the defence attorneys, Edward Luckhoo, off guard because he immediately discovered something more pressing to attend to and left the courtroom. The other defence attorney, Ramkarran, appeared to observers in court to be in some distress at this revelation.
However, the fact that they were dealing only with a copy and not the original document was apparently well known to Ramkarran as long ago as 2011 when a report prepared by Troy Whittaker, a Guyana police document examiner, on September 10, 2011, made it clear that the genuineness of Mongroo’s signature could not be confirmed from the poor quality photocopies presented to him by Ramkarran.
“…since the particular questioned document is a photocopy and the said photocopy was poorly done; it is advisable that the original document be made available in order for a proper analysis can be done so as to arrive at a conclusion,” Whittaker said at the time, adding that he returned “all of the submitted documents to Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran,” from whom he received them in the first place.
Further, a previous independent report obtained from Donald Frangipani, a nationally known US examiner of questioned documents, made it quite clear that copies could not be relied upon for this kind of determination.
But, based on a review of all medical reports and relevant documents, Frangipani concluded that “it is highly probable Yusuf Mongroo did not write the questioned signatures.”
Frangipani nevertheless emphasised his findings were predicated on his examination of photoreproductions, which he explained are susceptible to manipulation (e.g. tracing, cut and paste). Pen pressure, pen stop and type of writing instrument cannot be observed. Therefore it is necessary to examine the original documents.
In the meantime, another will purportedly signed by Mongroo in relation to his assets in the Cayman Islands has been conclusively proven to be forged because the sole beneficiary – a mysterious foundation established in The Bahamas – did not even exist until some three months after the will was said to have been signed, just days before Mongroo’s death. Furthermore, the two “witnesses” to Mongroo’s purported signature were subsequently discovered to be fictitious. The fraudulent will was used to steal over US$4 million from Mongroo’s bank account in the Cayman Islands. A local woman has since been arrested in connection with this.
The legal action in Guyana may have taken on some important geopolitical considerations because Horseshoe Racing, as possibly the largest cash business in Guyana, is viewed as a likely conduit for ongoing money laundering in the country as well as being an illegal source of political financing, and three of the attorneys involved in the battle for its control -- Ramjattan, Ramkarran and Nigel Hughes -- are all closely associated with opposition political parties and/or elements in Guyana that have been actively blocking the passage of anti-money laundering legislation, which has, in turn, led to Guyana being blacklisted by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF).
According to confidential sources, the situation has attracted the interest of at least two US government agencies -- the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) – the latter on the grounds that at least one of the banks used to facilitate the alleged theft and money laundering, JP Morgan Chase, was a recipient of US federal bailout funds.
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