Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sacred Heart insurance scam

Sacred Heart insurance scam

Posted By Stabroek News On July 23, 2008 @ 5:05 am In News | No Comments
GuyFlag manager says policy was found but no claim filed by church

By Zoisa Fraser

After months of delays, the 2004 US$2 million GuyFlag insurance scam trial continued yesterday with the manager of the company, Anthony Soares, testifying that he had found an insurance policy for the Sacred Heart church but that there was never a claim by the church.
[1] Frederick Sukhdeo

Frederick Sukhdeo

Soares, the president of the Caricom General Insurance Company, formerly known as Guyana Fire, Life and General Insurance Company (GuyFlag) took to the stand when the case was called by Magistrate Hazel Octive-Hamilton in the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court.

Frederick Sukhdeo, who is accused of being the mastermind of the insurance scam committed on the Scared Heart Church, which was completely destroyed by fire on Christmas Day in 2004, was present for yesterday’s proceedings. However his lawyers, Sanjeev Datadin and Winston Murray were absent and Sukhdeo made his own notes on the witness’ testimony.

The magistrate advised him that on the next occasion they will be taking a new witness and if his lawyers do not show up he will have to do the cross- examination himself.

In his evidence in chief, Soares testified that when he checked the records he found that there was no insurance claim for the church though there was a policy. The church has said it was self-insured and was unaware that there was a policy.

Led through his evidence by Police Prosecutor Desiree Fowler, Soares recounted that he knew Sukhdeo to be the chairman of the National Cooperative Credit Union which is located at Ocean View, Ruimzeight, West Coast Demerara, the same address that his company is located at.

Following the fire, he said he checked the company’s records as is customary to see if they had any properties in the area and discovered there were two policies: one for the church and the other for the Kirpalani bond.

He said that he collected the files from the Ruimzeight head office and took them to the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Joshua Safeek at the Georgetown Office located at Regent and Oronoque streets. He further explained that while the insurance company is owned by Safeek, the cooperative credit union belonged to several shareholders whose names he did not know.

He testified that while there he and Safeek checked the files after which he contacted Gregory Yeadon who conducts investigations pertaining to fire claims in Guyana. Yeadon, who resides in Barbados, arrived in the country about two weeks after the conversation and went to the Regent and Oronoque streets office where he was given the two files to conduct his investigations.

Soares recalled that the investigator returned to the office a week after and they had a conversation about the Kirpalani bond but at no point was the church fire discussed.

Then, he said they visited the bond two to three days after and within that period of time, the church site was also visited.

Soares recalled that on January 17, 2006 he was shown a copy of an insurance claims form at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Eve Leary after which he was asked some questions before giving a statement which he signed.

He told the court that at no time did he receive any document from the investigator but pointed out that Safeek received one which was shown to him and he read it. At no time, he testified, did he write a letter to the investigator but did not know if that was done by Safeek.

After being on the stand for about one hour, the prosecutor requested that Soares be recalled after two policemen had given their testimony.

Also present for the proceedings was Bishop Benedict Singh. Because of his health situation, the magistrate yesterday decided that on November 17 when the case continues he will give his evidence in chief and be cross-examined afterwards so that he would not have to return.

Special Prosecutor

In December, attorneys-at-law Gino Persaud and Nigel Hughes had written to the DPP requesting that they be appointed special prosecutors in the matter, free of cost to the state. They had sent several follow-up letters. But to date there has been no word on the status of the application and repeated efforts by this newspaper to ascertain from the DPP what would be done, proved futile.

Yesterday Persaud appeared in court watching over the interest of the church. The magistrate subsequently told him that she had recently received a letter from Datadin requesting that he (Persaud) hold the matter for him.

He however explained that a mistake must have been made on the part of his colleague.

According to Persaud, Datadin before leaving the jurisdiction asked him to hold for a few matters in the High Court. He said that the letter to the magistrate must have been an oversight. “I think it was an innocent oversight”.

After listening to him, the magistrate said that witnesses were present and she was moving ahead with the matter since Murray should have been present. She pointed out that she had already given a long adjournment.

It is alleged that on December 29, 2004, Sukhdeo, with intent to defraud forged a document purporting to be a GuyFlag fire and perils claim for US$2 million ($400 million) for the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church. He is also accused of trying to obtain the said sum of money by virtue of a forged fire and perils claim form. According to the facts of the case, GuyFlag submitted a bogus claim for payment to its reinsurance agent AON Re and Sukhdeo, who was the head of the sister operation, the National Cooperative Credit Union Limited, was presented as a representative of the church dealing with the fire.

It was when GuyFlag/Sukhdeo allegedly approached a claims adjuster here that the alleged scam was discovered and he was arrested on November 17, 2005 and placed on $50,000 station bail.

He was charged in March of the following year with forgery and endeavouring to obtain upon a forged document and he appeared at the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court on March 21 that year. He was released on $75,000 bail on that occasion.

Since the trial was set in the latter part of 2006, there have been several delays.

In August last, the prosecution opened its case with testimony from Roman Catholic Bishop Francis Alleyne.

He has since concluded giving his evidence. Then there were adjournments fuelled by the letters to the DPP for the position of special prosecutor.

When the matter was called on April 18, it had to be adjourned owing to the absence of the magistrate who was on sick leave.

Prior to that Persaud has indicated to the court that he had received no word from the DPP and as such a three-week adjournment was given.

On that occasion, the magistrate had suggested that the attorney go to the DPP’s chambers and attempt to seek an audience with the DPP.

On the last occasion, May 2, the magistrate once again adjourned the matter while stressing that the court could not continue to adjourn the matter while it awaited word from the DPP on the special prosecutor application.

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