The Integrity commission has hired a new attorney to head its investigations into alleged financial wrongdoings at the state-owned Marketing and National Importing Board (MNIB).
An official from the Commission confirmed with THE NEW TODAY last week Friday that Trinidad-born Senior Counsel, Attorney-at-Law Douglas Mendes will replace Eugene Otuonye QC, who has been serving as the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in the Turks and Caicos since January.
Otuonye was selected for the high ranking position in his homeland, following an open recruitment process, based on recommendations from an interview panel led by the Chair of that country’s Judicial Service Commission, Sir Michael Barnett.
A source who preferred not to be named said that Nigerian-born Otuonye will be heavily involved in the prosecuting of the island’s former Chief Minister and will not have time to get involved in the MNIB probe in Grenada.
Last July, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, who is the line minister for MNIB announced that his Cabinet has approved the setting up of a public Commission of Inquiry into the state-run entity as a result of alleged financial wrongdoing.
Approximately one month later in August, the Integrity Commission announced that it would take charge over the MNIB investigation and would conduct it privately and not publicly as stated by PM Mitchell.
It was disclosed in December that Otuonye was retained by the Commission to investigate the financial corruption allegations at the MNIB, in which former General Manager, Ruel Edwards is at the centre.
Otuonye was described as one who is experienced in the field of investigating wrongdoings and in 2008 successfully conducted a routine review of the administration of his adopted homeland, which is a British overseas territory, that led to the arrest of former Turks and Caicos Premier Michael Misick, who was charged with conspiracy to receive bribes, conspiracy to defraud the government and money laundering.
The allegation against Misick is that he had engaged in corrupt activities by enriching himself and fellow ministers by selling off crown lands.
THE NEW TODAY has now received confirmation from the Integrity Commission that Otuonye removed himself from the MNIB investigation, for reasons surrounding a “conflict of interest,” with his new position back home.
The Trinidadian-born was a judge of the Court of Appeal of Belize from March 2011 to March 2014 and a temporary judge of the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago during the period April to September 1998.
He was also a lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies (UWI) for a period of 14 years, ending in 2012, when he took up his judicial appointment in Belize. In 2003, he was appointed Senior Counsel and became a member of the Inner Bar of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
The SC has litigated numerous human rights, constitutional and administrative law cases as a senior legal practitioner across the Caribbean and before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.
Mr. Mendes is also the current President of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago.
The MNIB probe is currently locked in court as Edwards, through his attorney Cajeton Hood has filed a motion challenging the authority of the Integrity Commission (IC) to do the investigation.
The lawsuit alleges that the IC-led probe is being done in violation of the Commission of Inquiry act.