By Linda Hutchinson-Jafar
PORT OF SPAIN (Reuters) - Trinidad and Tobago's justice minister, Herbert Volney, was fired on Thursday over a controversial law that could allow charges to be dropped against more than a dozen people facing corruption charges, including two men wanted in the United States.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said Volney, a member of parliament of the ruling coalition, had deceived the government by assuring the cabinet that the proclamation of the new law had been approved by the country's Chief Justice and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
In a televised national address on Thursday night Persad-Bissessar apologized to the country and called Volney's actions a "serious misrepresentation."
A clause in the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act, which was passed last November and came into effect at the end of last month, established a statute of limitation for alleged crimes more than 10 years old.
As a result of the law, the government came under a barrage of criticism from a broad cross-section of the two-island Caribbean nation, including trade unions, lawyers and business groups.
In an emergency session last week, the parliament voted to repeal the controversial Section 34 of the law, but some legal analysts said those who had already applied for relief under the new law might still be able to have their cases dropped.
Among those who could benefit were businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson who are wanted in the United States on corruption charges related to the construction of a billion dollar international airport in Trinidad.
Galbaransingh is a major financial backer of the United National Congress (UNC), one of the main political parties in the People's Partnership coalition government, according to local media reports.
In 2005 a grand jury in Florida returned an indictment against Galbaransingh, Ferguson, as well as six Americans on charges of corruption involving construction of the airport terminal.
Galbaransingh and Ferguson have been fighting their extradition to the United States, arguing that they endured seven years of criminal proceedings in Trinidad for the same allegations and should not be extradited to face the charges.
Last December, the Trinidad and Tobago government said it would not appeal a court ruling that quashed the extradition of the two men and gave an assurance that they would face trial in the local court on similar charges.
The new law prompted a stern statement from the U.S. embassy in Trinidad last week noting it was "concerned" that it could result in the case being dropped against Galbaransingh and Ferguson, who also face federal fraud and money laundering charges in the U.S. stemming from alleged "bid rigging" on contracts for the Piarco International Airport.
"It would be highly disappointing if, after years of investigation, their case was not brought to trial," the statement said.
The statement added that the United States continued to seek their extradition, and the two men remain under indictment in the U.S.
Volney is the eighth government minister to be fired since the People's Partnership assumed power in May 2010.
Lawyer Chrisslyn Moore has been appointed the new Minister of Justice.
(Editing by David Adams)
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