Debate No 7 of 2004
MCB/NPF, MR T. BISSESSUR & DPM'S STATEMENT AT VILLE BAGUE - POLICE INQUIRY
The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. N. Ramgoolam) (By Private Notice) asked the Ag. Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and Home Affairs whether in view of Government's repeated assurances over the last few days of its commitment not to cover up scandals, he will state whether a Police inquiry has been conducted in each of the following cases and, if so, the outcome thereof -
(a) the massive fraud committed by the Mauritius Commercial Bank Ltd. to the prejudice of the National Pensions Fund;
(b) the assistance afforded to an alleged terrorist, Mr Toorab Bissessur, to leave the country and to obtain financial assistance abroad, and
(c) the Police statement made against the hon. Deputy Prime Minister in or around December 2003 for publishing false news and for criminal defamation.
The Ag. Prime Minister (Mr P. K. Jugnauth): Mr Speaker, Sir, I wish to reiterate the assurances given by this Government in the House and outside that there has not been and that there will be no attempt in any way to cover up any scandal and that both the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Police have an absolute liberty to conduct their enquiries in any cases that are brought to their notice.
As regards part (a) of the question, the House is aware that on 14 February 2003, the MCB Ltd. issued a communiqué stating that it had identified a fraud involving hundreds of millions of rupees deposited with it by the National Pensions Fund/National Savings Fund.
The Bank, in view of the complexity of the transaction leading to the fraud, immediately made a report to the Financial Intelligence Unit thereon. Consequently, an investigation into the matter was initiated by ICAC in accordance with the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act 2002 and the Financial Intelligence and Money Laundering Act 2002. As a result of these investigations, Court cases have been instituted by ICAC which has, so far, referred to the DPP charges against five persons. The investigation is still ongoing.
On 26 September and 09 October 2003, the Chief Internal Auditor of the MCB made declarations at the CID in connection with the fraudulent misappropriation of funds amounting to Rs632 m. plus interests belonging to the MCB and which had been siphoned into the accounts of third parties.
On 21 January 2004, the Fraud Investigator of the MCB reported a case of misappropriation of funds of the same amount to the prejudice of the Bank. Both cases are being investigated by the Central CID. On the completion of the enquiry, the relevant dossier will be forwarded to the DPP for advice.
Meanwhile the Bank has made a total refund amounting to Rs881.5 m. representing deposits and interests to the NPF/NSF.
As regards part (b) of the question, I wish to inform the House that on three occasions namely on 23 May 2001, 27 January 2003 and 04 November 2003, Private Prosecutions were lodged against hon. Paul Bérenger before Curepipe Court for allegedly giving assistance to one Toorab Bissessur to facilitate his departure from Mauritius. On each of the three occasions, the DDP entered a Nolle Prosequi and the proceedings were all discontinued.
The House will note, however, that there has been no cover up in so far as accusation levelled against Mr Toorab Bissessur are concerned. In fact, he was prosecuted before the Intermediate Court and on 07 November 2001, he was sentenced to undergo six years penal servitude and to pay a fine of Rs3000 for five different offences committed by him.
As regards part (c) of the question, on 21 November 2003, Dr. Vasant Kumar Bunwaree reported to the Police that on Wednesday 19 November 2003 at Ville Bague Mr Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, Acting Prime Minister, at a public gathering, uttered words which he considered to be defamatory to his party. On 28 November 2003, the matter was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for his advice as to the defamatory nature or otherwise of the words allegedly uttered before proceeding with any further investigation. The DPP advice is still being awaited. Once the advice is obtained, the investigation will be completed and forwarded to the DPP for his decision.
Dr. Ramgoolam: Concerning the first part of the question, it is agreed that the Mauritius Commercial Bank had money given to it on trust by the NPF and that money has been stolen, and the words 'misappropriation' and 'embezzlement of funds' were used. If money has been stolen, we all agree that there has been a fraud. Mr Speaker, Sir, a fraud should have been investigated by the Police. So, may we know from the Ag. Prime Minister whether the Police made an inquiry at the bank about the fraud?
The Ag. Prime Minister: Well, I won't go into the details of the case of the MCB/NPF affair, Mr Speaker, Sir. I have already replied that the ICAC has investigated, and is still investigating into this matter and, therefore, it is not appropriate for me to make further comments on this.
Dr. Ramgoolam: Mr Speaker, Sir, does the Ag. Prime Minister not agree that this is the biggest fraud that has ever been committed in this country? It concerns the money of workers and also two big institutions. Is he telling us, therefore, that the Police is not going to act, but that it is the ICAC which is going to do the work of the Police?
A fraud has been committed! There are lawyers on the other side. A fraud has been committed, it is a criminal offence. So, where is the Police investigation? That is what we want to know.
The Ag. Prime Minister: Mr Speaker, Sir, let me repeat again. I also wish to clarify one point which the hon. Leader of the Opposition has just made, namely that the Police is not investigating; the Police is investigating. And let me give the relevant information that, as a result of the Chief Internal Auditor of the MCB having made declarations at the CID on 26 September and 09 October 2003, in connection with the fraudulent misappropriation of funds - and there is, of course, a link between all these matters - the CID is investigating into that matter. After the Fraud Investigator of the MCB had reported a case of misappropriation of funds of an amount, which I have mentioned earlier, to the prejudice of the bank, again the Central CID is investigating into that matter; but, as I have stated earlier, there is that part which has been taken over by ICAC because it falls within the purview of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Dr. Ramgoolam: If the Police has started the inquiry - a matter which is now more than one year ago - can the hon. Ag. Prime Minister tell us whether the Police has completed the inquiry or is still going to carry on the inquiry for another five years?
The Ag. Prime Minister: I am sure the hon. Leader of the Opposition, being himself a Barrister, would probably, more so than anybody else, understand that there are procedures at the level of an inquiry when it has started, whether it be ICAC or at the level of the Police, that these procedures have to be followed in the form of evidence, statements, and I don't know what else. I don't want to go into the details. In fact, I am not being supplied with the details of the ongoing inquiry in form of what statements are being taken, the contents of the statements and so on. Therefore, we should - and I'll probably appeal to the hon. Leader of the Opposition - trust the institutions that we have; we should trust the officers that are carrying out their work diligently. Let us leave it to these people to do their work independently and, of course, as the case proceeds forward, we'll at a point in time know what will be the results, because all matters will be referred to the DDP and, eventually, the DPP will have to take a stand.
Dr. Ramgoolam: I thank the Ag. Prime Minister for clearing up this matter about the investigation. He has said, himself, that it would be right to allow the Police to inquire independently and to take up the decision. But, with the comments that the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance made to the then Prime Minister, that this should not be divulged to the Cabinet, to Ministers, does he not think that it was already an attempt to cover up?
The Ag. Prime Minister: There is no such question, as anything that Cabinet needs to know about is known by Members of the Cabinet. I would again appeal to the hon. Leader of the Opposition. The inquiry is under way and, as I have said, at ICAC and at the Police level. If Members of the Opposition, or anybody else for that matter, have any cause for concern that they have evidence, or that they have information to the effect that the inquiry is not being done in the proper way, or that things are not moving in the right direction, of course, they are free not only to inform the Police, but the hon. Prime Minister who is responsible for those institutions also. So, I would appeal to the hon. Leader of the Opposition that we should be careful when we say that the inquiry is not moving on and so forth. I can assure him that, at least, from our side, we are seeing to it that the inquiry proceeds in an independent manner and that things are being done in the right way.
Dr. Ramgoolam: The Ag. Prime Minister said that the inquiry is proceeding in an independent manner - I take him on his words - but does he not think that the inquiry has already been prejudiced when the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance went on television to defend the bank and said that it was a solid bank of high reputation when in fact the fraud has taken place there?
At the very bank the fraud took place! And this is the bank that he came to defend in public! Does the Ag. Prime Minister not think that this prejudiced the whole inquiry?
The Ag. Prime Minister: No!
Mr Speaker: Unless the Ag. Prime Minister is prepared to give his opinion, the Standing Orders provide that the opinion of a Minister cannot be asked for.
The Ag. Prime Minister: In fact, I was about to say that there has been no prejudice irrespective of the opinion of anybody else.
Mr Dulloo: May I ask the hon. Ag. Prime Minister whether he is aware of the fact that the ICAC cannot inquire into matters and, therefore, take action against same, that have occurred prior to the coming into force of the Prevention of Corruption Act and the setting up of ICAC?
The Ag. Prime Minister: Yes, I am aware of this.
Mr Dulloo: Is the Ag. Prime Minister aware that the massive fraud/scandal with regard to the MCB and the NPF relates to matters quite a few years, prior to the coming into force of the Prevention of Corruption Act and the setting up of the ICAC?
The Ag. Prime Minister: Mr Speaker, Sir, as far as any matters prior to the coming into force of the Prevention of Corruption Act 2002 are concerned, the advice of the DPP is sought and in case the ICAC is not legally in a position to inquire, then the Police does inquire. As I said, again, the Police is already inquiring into certain aspects of this MCB/NPF case. I'll not be in a position to give the details of these, as the inquiry is ongoing.
Mr Dulloo: May I ask the hon. Ag. Prime Minister whether he is aware that the whole offence concerning the massive fraud at the MCB is an embezzlement of funds, which is clearly spelt out under the Criminal Code? He has referred just now to certain specific declarations made by specific officers concerning certain specific matters, but we are referring to the massive fraud with regard to the MCB/NPF affair, which does not involve only the NPF, but also mutual savings, national savings and other funds. May we, therefore, know if the Minister for Home Affairs has ordered that the whole inquiry, from the criminal point of view, under the Criminal Code, including embezzlement of about Rs1 billion be inquired into?
The Ag. Prime Minister: Again, Mr Speaker, Sir, neither I nor the hon. Member of the Opposition can judge. The Police stand has been that matters which have been reported to the Police and which cannot be investigated by ICAC because of this legal problem that they are not entitled to investigate into matters prior to their coming into form, are being investigated by the Police. I have said that, I am repeating it again. Therefore this question of whether it is as a whole or whether there are specific matters, it is for the DPP to give - and DPP has given - advice in those cases in the way they should be investigated.
Dr. Boolell: The Ag. Prime Minister has talked of independence of institutions. Can I ask him whether, at the time the inquiry was being conducted by the Police, it was proper for the Prime Minister to receive the No. 1 of the MCB in his office and for the then....
Mr Speaker: Hon. Boolell, will you please take your seat? You are asking the Ag. Prime Minister to say whether what the Prime Minister did was proper or not. It is asking the Ag. Prime Minister's opinion on the conduct of the substantive Prime Minister. This is not allowed by the Standing Orders.
Dr. Boolell: Can I ask the Ag. Prime Minister whether he agrees that it was fair for the Prime Minister then to receive in his office the No. 1 of the MCB at the time when we are saying that the inquiry conducted...
Mr Speaker: Hon. Boolell, this question is not allowed.
Mr Dulloo: May I ask the hon. Ag. Prime Minister whether he has taken cognizance of the report of NTan Corporate Advisory Private Ltd? It was an inquiry conducted following the discovery of this scam. In the light of this, has he ordered that a new orientation be given to the inquiry with regard to the Police and ICAC?
The Ag. Prime Minister: Mr Speaker, Sir, yes, I have taken cognizance of the report of NTan and I leave it to the Bank of Mauritius, as a regulatory body, to do whatever it thinks fit to do in the light of the report.
Mr Dulloo: Can he, therefore, confirm that the report dwells comprehensively on certain practices that date as far back as in the early 1990s....
Mr Speaker: Before the hon. Member puts his question, can he inform me whether the report has been made public or not?
Mr Dulloo: I am referring to a public document, the communiqué that was issued by the Bank of Mauritius. Is the Ag. Prime Minister aware that in the communiqué issued by the Bank of Mauritius, it is stated that the report dwells comprehensively on certain practices that date as far back as in the early 1990s when the Mauritius Commercial Bank Finance Corporation was still in operation? In the light of this, as Minister of Finance also, has he ordered that an inquiry be conducted in the activities of the Mauritius Commercial Bank Finance Corporation, linked with this massive scandal?
The Ag. Prime Minister: Again, let me repeat, Mr Speaker, Sir, that the Bank of Mauritius, which is aware of the contents of the report - and as the hon. Member is saying - has issued a communiqué. It has taken, and will be taking, whatever measures and whatever action they deem fit to take. Therefore, it is not proper for me, as Minister of Finance, to interfere with the work of the Bank of Mauritius and I know that they assume their responsibility. I leave it, of course, to the Bank of Mauritius to do what they feel should be done.
Dr. Ramgoolam: May I ask the Ag. Prime Minister, who is also Minister of Finance, whether he would consider, at least - if he does not want to have a copy laid in the Assembly - letting the Leader of the Opposition have access to that report to see what is in it. Would that be possible?
The Ag. Prime Minister: At this stage, what I know is that the document is a confidential one, but I need to take advice...
Mr Speaker: Order!
Should I remind hon. Members that there are notices at the entrance door that they should not bring mobile phones in the House.
The Ag. Prime Minister: I need to be advised on the request that the hon. Leader of the Opposition has made today.
Dr. Ramgoolam: I thank the Ag. Prime Minister. I come to part (b) of the question. The Ag. Prime Minister said that there have been three private prosecutions on the Toorab Bissessur's affair, but can he say why have not the Police themselves conducted an investigation into these extremely serious allegations that a senior politician has provided assistance to an alleged terrorist?
The Ag. Prime Minister: In the light of the private prosecutions that were lodged, the DPP, which is an independent institution, had taken a stand. What I can conclude is that, of course, the same reasoning would apply as to whether there is any case against hon. Paul Bérenger.
Mr Dulloo: Mr Speaker, Sir, we have just heard from hon. Ag. Prime Minister that there is no coverup as far as Toorab Bissessur is concerned. We have heard that he has been sentenced for many offences for six years penal servitude. This surely has been so as a result of inquiry conducted by the Police, then submitted to the DPP at the end of the day. What we are asking the hon. Ag. Prime Minister is whether - in the light of the many allegations already made public, the fact that there were private prosecutions lodged on so many occasions and the DPP, at the end of the day, intervened - now it is high time for transparency that there is no cover up to reassure the public that the same treatment given to Bissessur has been given by the then Deputy Prime Minister, whether he should not now ask that an inquiry be conducted and the public be enlightened as far as the involvement of Mr Paul Raymond Bérenger is concerned.
Mr Speaker: Order!
The Ag. Prime Minister: Mr Speaker, Sir, if any allegation is frivolous and rightly so, the DPP will just pronounce himself by filing a nolle prosequi. It stands to reason that there is no case. So, how can one make a case out of facts or matters that do not even disclose any criminal offence?
Dr. Ramgoolam: May I ask the Ag. Prime Minister if he does not find it strange that a backbencher MP has been tried for a conspiracy to fabricate false alibi? Here there is a conspiracy to assist an alleged terrorist and there is nothing against Paul Raymond Bérenger! Dev Hurnam has been taken to Court. Does he not find it to be deux poids et deux mesures?
The Ag. Prime Minister: We all know the judgement of the court that the appeal was upheld and that there was no case eventually against the hon. Member of the National Assembly.
Dr. Ramgoolam: May I ask the Ag. Prime Minister to take up the point made out by hon. Dulloo, whether he would, therefore, for the sake of transparency, give clear indication that there is no deux poids et deux mesures on the part of Government and, therefore, Police should have investigated and can still investigate?
The Ag. Prime Minister: M, le président, je voudrais rassurer l'honorable membre qu'il n'y a pas deux poids et deux mesures en ce qui concerne ce gouvernement. Tout est fait dans la transparence and that we will see to it that things keep on being done in an independent and transparent manner.
Mr Dulloo: Mr Speaker, Sir, the past few days as we have said with regard to the inquiry in the Deelchand affair, Government, especially the hon. Prime Minister, gives assurances that in this particular case there will be no cover up. This is why we are asking whether, in the light of the MCB/NPF saga, there has not been a cover up right from the outset in the whole inquiry into the matter.
The Ag. Prime Minister: Mr Speaker, Sir, we have a principle in this Government that not only the case of what we call the Deelchand Notary case, but all cases have similar consideration and that inquiries are done independently and in a transparent manner.
Mr Speaker: In fact, hon. Dulloo, you are going against what the hon. Leader of the Opposition is saying. In his question, the Leader of the Opposition said: "in view of Government's repeated assurances over the last few days of its commitment not to cover up scandals". I think what the hon. Leader of the Opposition is saying is that Government has said that it is not going to cover up any scandal.
Mr Dulloo: I would have expected this comment to have come from the bench of Government. But at any rate, may I ask the hon. Ag. Prime Minister whether, in the communiqué of the Bank of Mauritius regarding the MCB/NPF scandal, it was not recommended that the Mauritius Commercial Bank Ltd should require all staff members, particularly those dealing with customers, assets and liabilities to take compliance leave during which period their supervisors, their audit department and their compliance department should carry out appropriate reviews of their work? May I ask him as Minister of Finance and now Ag Prime Minister whether this has been?
Mr Speaker: Hon. Dulloo, please resume your seat. There is a limit to which you can go with a question. The question of the hon. Leader of the Opposition is very clear. He is asking whether an inquiry is being made by the Police in the MCB saga. We cannot go into a matter which is not within the province of the Prime Minister. You are asking a question to the hon. Ag. Prime Minister in his capacity as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance whereas this PNQ is addressed to the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior. I am not allowing this question.
Mr Dulloo: If I have been allowed to finish, my question is whether the Police has been asked to ensure?
Mr Speaker: No. You have to be very careful. You are yourself saying that you are putting this question to the hon. Ag. Prime Minister in his capacity as Minister of Finance. I cannot allow you to put questions to the Minister of Finance when the question is addressed to Ag. Prime Minister.
Mr Dulloo: I would like to know whether the whole matter has been referred to the Prime Minister in order to ensure, in the course of the inquiry, whether ICAC and the Police have ensured that the officers were not in function while the inquiry was going on according to the recommendation of the report of NTan Corporate, whether this has been ensured as far as the inquiry is concerned.
The Ag. Prime Minister: Well, again, Mr Speaker, Sir, the Bank of Mauritius has issued a communiqué, in fact, requesting and instructing a private bank to carry out certain matters. It is for the Bank of Mauritius to see to it that this is being done and if it is not being done, it will be for the Bank of Mauritius to take the appropriate measures.
Mr Dulloo: We are discussing about inquiries from the Police and ICAC. Whilst ICAC and the Police would be conducting the inquiry on the MCB/NPF scandal involving almost billion of rupees, have they ensured that the relevant officers were not actually in operation at the bank? This is what we mean by cover up, that the persons directly involved were not actually operating whilst the inquiry was on, so that documentary evidence could be discarded.
The Ag. Prime Minister: I am sure that the inquiring officers will be taking all this into consideration, and if there are new facts, new matters that disclose any neglect or any criminal act, I am sure that the officers will highlight those matters and will take the evidence needed to complete the inquiry.
Mr Speaker: There is one more minute for the PNQ.
Dr. Ramgoolam: Concerning part (c) of the question, may I ask the Ag. Prime Minister whether any Police statements have been taken in this matter?
The Ag. Prime Minister: I take it that there must have been a statement from the declarant. But after that, I have stated that the matter has been referred to DPP for his advice as to the defamatory nature or otherwise of the words that have been allegedly uttered before proceeding further with the inquiry. I am sure the hon. Leader of the Opposition will understand that.
Dr. Ramgoolam: Is he aware of what President Bush has said? That "anybody who helps or harbours a criminal or a terrorist is himself a terrorist". Is he aware of that?
Mr Speaker: Order! Order!
The Ag. Prime Minister: If Members would allow me. I know that the hon. Member is just coming back from mission from Boston and I know that he is very attuned to what is happening in the United States of America, but I will request him to have his feet here in Mauritius!
Mr Speaker: Order, please. Questions to the Ag. Prime Minister, please.