Port of Spain: Basdeo Panday, Trinidad and Tobago`s first Indian-origin prime minister, has been acquitted of charges of failing to declare his assets in a London bank.
Panday was facing three charges under the Integrity in Public Life Act 1987, for failing to declare assets amounting to approximately USD 250,000 held at the National Westminister Bank of Wimbledon Hill Road, London, for the years 1997, 1998 and 1999.
In April 2006, Panday spent five days at the maximum security prison here before being granted bail on the basis of ill health.
Magistrate Marcia Murray of the Integrity Commission, in giving her decision in favour of Panday, said the commission had failed to advise the president of Trinidad and Tobago to appoint a tribunal to enquire into Panday`s declarations.
"Mr Panday was not given the opportunity to which he was entitled to be heard by a properly constituted tribunal. The referral of Mr. Panday`s declarations to the Director of Public Persecutions was therefore ill-conceived, and it matters not that the Director of Public Persecutions found that there was sufficient evidence to lay the charges," Murray said.
"In the court`s view, failing to accord Mr Panday due process under the act amounts to misconduct on the part of the Commission," Murray said.
Because of the case, Panday`s political career came into question even within his own party, the United National Congress. In January 2010, he lost the leadership battle to Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who later became prime minister in May that year.
Panday has since then been out of frontline politics, but with the court matter now out of his way, may take a chance to come back in the political arena.
The former prime minister has been in active politics since 1966. He earlier led the powerful All Trinidad Sugar and Factories Workers` Union which eventually propelled him to politics.
Panday became the first prime minister of Indian origin in 1995 and remained in power until 2001.
His forefathers hail from Uttar Pradesh. They came to the Caribbean between 1845 and 1917 to work on sugar plantations. Around 44 percent of the country`s population of 1.3 million people are of Indian origin.