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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06PORTOFSPAIN488 2006-04-25 11:56:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Port Of Spain
Cable title:  

T&T LEADER OF OPPOSITION FOUND GUILTY IN

Tags:   PGOV KCOR TD 
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VZCZCXRO3796
OO RUEHGR
DE RUEHSP #0488/01 1151156
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O 251156Z APR 06
FM AMEMBASSY PORT OF SPAIN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6727
INFO RUCNCOM/EC CARICOM COLLECTIVE
					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PORT OF SPAIN 000488 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CAR

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KCOR TD
SUBJECT: T&T LEADER OF OPPOSITION FOUND GUILTY IN
INTEGRITY TRIAL

REF: A. PORT OF SPAIN 00200


B. PORT OF SPAIN 00411

C. PORT OF SPAIN 00253



1. (SBU) SUMMARY: United National Congress Leader of
the Opposition Basdeo Panday was found guilty on all
three counts of knowingly making a false declaration of
income and assets to the Integrity Commission. Panday
has been incarcerated in the maximum security prison.
Constitutionally, he will be required to step down from
his seat in Parliament, which also opens the position
of Leader of the Opposition. At this point, we are
unsure if this sentence will sow further seeds of
destruction in the UNC or if the party will dust itself
off and unite behind a new leader. END SUMMARY.



2. (U) Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls rendered the
verdict in the integrity trial of United National
Congress (UNC) Leader of the Opposition Basdeo Panday
on April 24. McNicolls found Panday guilty on all
three counts of knowingly making a false declaration of
income and assets to the Integrity Commission in 1997,
1998 and 1999. Panday ran afoul of the Integrity in
Public Life Act by failing to disclose the existence of
a London bank account (Reftels A and B). He is the
first person holding high office to be charged under
this act. He was sentenced to two years' hard labor;
fined TTD 60,000 (USD 10,000); and required to repay
the amount of the undeclared assets, some TTD 1.6
million (USD 266,000). The Chief Magistrate denied
bail and Panday, with his head bowed, was immediately
taken to processing for jail. Panday's attorneys will
appear before the High Court to apply for bail. Panday
is currently housed in the maximum security prison in
Arouca.



3. (U) The court was crowded with subdued supporters
and curious onlookers along with a contingent of armed
police officers, both inside and outside the courtroom.
People gathered from as early as 8:00 am to hear the
judgment, which was finally read at 10:00. A muffled
cry was heard as the "guilty" verdict was pronounced.
Some attorneys were surprised that Panday was sentenced
to jail. Observers expected a "guilty" verdict, but
did not expect that the Chief Magistrate would impose
hard time on the 73-year-old former Prime Minister.
Panday's daughter, Mikela, and brother, Subhas (a UNC
MP), were present in court with members of the UNC
executive. Mikela shed tears while Rupert Griffith,
Speaker of the House under the UNC Government, sobbed
openly.



4. (U) The Constitution stipulates that anyone who is
sentenced to jail for a period of more than 12 months
is ineligible to hold a seat in Parliament. The guilty
verdict and 2-year sentence requires Panday to resign
from his seat in the Lower House of Representatives in
Parliament, and, consequently, his position as Leader
of the Opposition. Constitutionally, a by-election
must be called in Panday's constituency since the
Parliament has more than one year left in its normal
term (the next general elections are due to be held no
later than October 2007). The controversial Ramesh
Lawrence Maharaj, who served as Attorney General under
the former UNC government, and who was publicly brought
back by Panday to the UNC fold at the February 19 UNC
unity rally (ref C) maybe the most likely UNC candidate
in the anticipated by-election. Such a comeback would
necessitate quick action by the UNC executive to
approve Maharaj's formal application to rejoin the
party.



5. (SBU) COMMENT: The big question at this point
whether the UNC will rally behind another leader or
further disintegrate in the absence of the charismatic
Panday. It is a question of which way the UNC
executive, Panday's "inner circle," will swing. If the
UNC executive closes ranks and appoints Political
Leader Winston Dookeran Leader of the Opposition, the
UNC can begin to put the Panday corruption trial behind
them and focus on the next general elections with a
relatively clean slate given Dookeran's reputation as
being a clean politician. In this scenario, alienated
members and UNC backbenchers, such as Fuad Khan and
Gillain Lucky, would likely rejoin the party. In
short, an internal healing process could begin,
ultimately strengthening the party for the next
elections.


PORT OF SP 00000488 002 OF 002




6. (SBU) COMMENT CONTINUED: On the other hand, if the
party executive stays faithful to Panday and his recent
policies by continuing to marginalize Dookeran and
Chief Whip Ganga Singh, the UNC is likely to further
disintegrate without the force of Panday's personality
to hold it together. In this scenario, the UNC will
collapse under its own weight, making it easy for the
PNM to win the next general elections. Another big
question is the reentry of former Attorney General
Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj. It is unclear if he is
allowed to rejoin the party whether he will act as more
a unifier or a divider. At this point he appears to be
the only viable challenger to Dookeran for the Leader
of the Opposition spot. END COMMENT.


AUSTIN