Former acting PS grilled as Petrojam fraud trial starts
Wahkeen Murray, former acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology, was yesterday pressed to establish whether she knew that Dr Perceval Bahado-Singh resided in the United States at the time of his appointment and while serving on the board of Jamaica’s state-owned refinery, Petrojam.
She was being cross-examined at the start of the three-week fraud trial of former Petrojam General Manager Floyd Grindley and the former chairman, Bahado-Singh, in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court.
The accused were arrested and charged in relation to alleged fraudulent claims submitted to the state-owned refinery amounting to US$73,620 between December 2016 and May 2018.
It is alleged that Bahado-Singh submitted the claims for overseas travel, which he reportedly did not undertake, while Grindley is alleged to have aided and abetted the ex-chairman in the process.
Initially, Grindley was facing eight counts of aiding and abetting and obtaining money by means of false pretence, while Bahado-Singh was to answer to 12 charges related to the US$73,620 that he allegedly improperly obtained as chairman of the oil refinery.
However, they were later slapped with new charges, including fraudulent conversion, aiding and abetting fraudulent conversion, conspiracy to defraud, and one count of obtaining money by false pretence.
Cross-examining Murray, attorney-at-law Bert Samuels asked whether she was aware that at the time of his client’s appointment as a director of Petrojam, he resided in the United States.
“I believe that information would have [been] forwarded to me by the way,” she responded.
Samuels further pressed for a direct yes or no response.
“You are aware that ... when Bahado-Singh was appointed to the board in April 2016, he resided in the United States?” he asked.
“That is my understanding,” replied Murray.
Samuels then asked whether she knew Bahado-Singh was a resident of the United States when he was first appointed chairman of Petrojam in January 2017.
“You became aware of that?” Samuels asked, to which Murray responded, “I think I continued to be aware of that, Sir.”
Samuels said that when Bahado-Singh was reappointed as chairman of the Petrojam board in December 2017, he continued to reside in the United States.
Murray established that she was not the permanent secretary at the time Bahado-Singh was appointed, pointing out that Hilary Alexander was the permanent secretary at that time.
Earlier, Samuels had asked Murray whether she was wearing three hats in relation to the matter – as counsel, former permanent secretary, and an advisor for information and communications technology (ICT).
Murray responded that she wears two hats: “As someone who would have acted as permanent secretary before and as a technical officer in the ministry/advisor to the permanent secretary and advisor to the minister for ICT.”
Samuels said that he had given Murray a third hat because she said that she gave legal advice on matters related to ICT.
Murray was appointed as acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology in August 2018.