What follows below is a letter to the editor of Guyana Times, amended by additions, in response to two articles, which he has not published
I refer to two articles in your newspaper on March 18 and March 19 and now seek to respond to the false allegations therein about me.
The first article was carried on March 18, 2015 under the caption “If you live in a glass house, don’t throw stones!”
It alleged that I refused a cabinet post in 1992 and instead demanded legal work for my firm. I was never offered a cabinet post in 1992 and there was no flood of legal business to my firm. My firm, a well known corporate and commercial law firm, was retained by only one major government owned business as a client shortly after 1992, the then National Bank of Industry and Commerce (NBIC), which was soon after privatized. There were some smaller clients with very little legal business. Imagine a government headed by Cheddi Jagan allowing open nepotism of the sort I am accused of without being given short shrift!
For some perspective, it should be known that the income derived from legal business handled by my firm for government agencies amounts at the highest to no more than ten percent of our overall income. Only three of the government agencies which are clients of my firm have regular legal business. There are dozens of government agencies which have lawyers other than ourselves.
It was alleged that I refused a cabinet post in 1997 because a Minister’s salary was too low. After Mrs. Jagan decided to accept nomination as the presidential candidate, having first nominated me and being persuaded by Roger Luncheon and others to accept the nomination instead, she suggested that I should be a member of a team of three with herself and Sam Hinds. I was to be designated her successor in case she could not continue for any reason.
I readily accepted the offer but said that I could not accept a cabinet post because at that time my two children were in university and law school overseas. I offered to accept a position as an unpaid adviser who would attend cabinet meetings and so become familiar with government issues, if it was considered that such was necessay. It was insisted that I must take a cabinet post. Had I taken the post, I would not have been financially able on a government salary to maintain my children in school and would have had to terminate their education. I explained all of this in some detail but the executive of the PPP was unmoved. I made the choice that any parent would have made. I declined to sacrifice my children’s education, sacrificing instead the possibility of my succeeding Mrs. Jagan to the presidency. Mr. Jagdeo was elevated in my place.
This is well known to then Executive members of the PPP. However, the narrative of my declining the offer of the presidency because of money was invented by the PPP, because of the negative, public, questions which arose when I was omitted from any role. I don’t know of anyone who would decline a potential presidential nomination because of money. The issue of my children’s education has been conveniently omitted in the narrative. Several prominent persons were aware of these facts and my dilemma at the time including Miles Fitzpatrick, my former senior partner, Joey King, and Henry Jeffrey
An old story is repeated alleging some sort of fraud in the estate of Yusuf Mongroo, a case in which the deceased’s Will is challenged by his daughter, Sherene Mongroo, who along with her siblings lived overseas while her deceased father lived for about forty years in Guyana, where she never visited him. His estate was given to his Guyanese reputed wife and Guyanese business manager. None of the close friends of Mongroo, who knew him for the decades he was in Guyana, including the beneficiaries of his estate, were ever told by Mongroo that he had children. They only became aware of this when they turned up for his funeral.
In the vast majority of cases involving a Will there are allegations of fraud. This case is no different except that the range of the accused include every single person who had has something to do with this matter. I have been accused and so have the lawyer who made the Will, the doctors who witnessed it, Yusuf Mongroo’s Barbados lawyer, bankers in Barbados and others in the Cayman Islands. It should be known that the case has been heard and decision is being awaited. No evidence of anyone committing actual fraud has been given in the case and no other court case or criminal charges alleging any other kind of fraud anywhere inside or outside of Guyana has been filed, as one would have expected, if the allegation had any merit.
In the second article on March 19 entitled “Ramkarran strikes gold with Demerara Gold,” a series of patently false allegations were made about technical matters relating to the trademark “Demerara Gold.”
It is alleged that my firm failed to advise Guysuco to register Demerara Gold with the WTO. This is completely untrue. My firm was never consulted by Guysuco on such a matter. In any case we have no knowledge of or experience in international trade law or international intellectual property which govern cases such as the “Champagne” and other cases. Of course we know about these cases but the use of “Demerara” in the sense of the “Champagne” case is a foreign trade issue and relates international intellectual property law for the Government of Guyana and had we been consulted, we would have so advised. If there is any negligence here, the Government of Guyana should look in the mirror.
Some weird, unintelligible, assertions were made in the Beddessee case, the facts of which are as follows. Beddessee, a business group with food distribution businesses in the US and Canada, sued the Government of Guyana, Guysuco and other agencies after defamatory allegations were made against the business by a member of the government in New York relating to the “Demerara Gold” trademark which Beddessee had registered in New York and Canada. Being a US case, Guysuco was represented by US lawyers. As Guysuco’s local lawyers we merely coordinated between Guysuco and the US lawyers who also have been lawyers for the Government of Guyana since 1992 in a wide range of matters. They spearheaded the successful arbitration in relation to the Surinam Maritime Boundary in which Guyana was successful.
Since it was a US case, it had nothing to do with Guyana law or the Guyana courts. Eventually a settlement was recommended by the US lawyers because Beddessee had registered “Demerara Gold” in New York and Canada before Guysuco’s attempt to do so. Guysuco had to agree to Beddessee’s use of “Demerara Gold” in the US and Canada. This matter lasted near ten years. Our total fee for those ten years of work was the equivalent of approximately US$100,000 dollars, not the $520 million claimed in the article, which is ludicrous. I have no idea what fees the US lawyers charged. Guysuco would be able to provide that figure as well as confirm our fees.
To give some context, our law firm, Cameron & Shepherd, was established in 1901, is the oldest law firm in the English speaking Caribbean and the largest in Guyana. It has 30 staff and five partners. Our monthly overheads are an average of $9 million. While we value all our clients and are grateful for their business, we do not have to chase around for work. Clients come to us of their own volition, as they do to all other serious lawyers in Guyana, having determined what their needs are and who best they believe can serve those requirements. As a matter of fact, we work for the Attorney General’s Chambers at the latter’s request from time to time. He would have hardly sought us out if he if he did not have confidence in our ability to deliver. The size, age of our legal business and range of our clients say more than anything I can write.