PART 1: Some of the biggest, most absurd scandals to hit UNC and PNM
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT First Row: Patrick Manning; Kamla Persad-Bissessar; Dr Keith Rowley; Basdeo Panday; Anil Roberts; Glenn Ramadharsingh Second Row: Dr Roodal Monilal; Faris Al-Rawi; Dr Anand Ramlogan; Chandresh Sharma; Marlene McDonald; Camille Robinson-Regis Third Row: Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson; Gerald Ramdeen; Calder Hart; Herbert Volney; Jack Warner; Dr Suruj Rambachan
Politics in Trinidad and Tobago has been marred by outrageous accusations, malicious gossip and investigations which in some cases, have led to arrests.
As the country is on its way to local government and general elections by 2020, Loop News thought it necessary to look at some of the biggest scandals to have hit the two main political parties, the United National Congress (UNC) and the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM), in the last 20 years.
This is part one of a three-part series.
Brace yourself, it's a lot.
Rowley accused of impropriety in Landate project
Dr Keith Rowley was Housing Minister when he was accused of having material moved from the Scarborough Hospital Project to the Landate Project at Mason Hall in 2003. Landate was a private housing development project at Mason Hall Tobago owned by Dr Rowley’s wife, Sharon Rowley.
The revelation was made at a 2005 Commission of Inquiry into the Scarborough Hospital Project by Anthony Sookram, operations manager of P Ramnarine Rental Services, who provided evidence on the matter.
Dr Rowley was also accused of the award of contracts to NH International Caribbean Limited (NHIC) and Warner Construction Ltd in 2002.
In 2009, Dr Rowley won a legal battle with the Integrity Commission when a High Court judge ruled it acted unfairly against him by failing to give him an opportunity to be heard.
In 2014, he was awarded $475,000 in damages for libel by union leader Michael Anisette. Anisette was also ordered to pay Dr Rowley’s $160,000 attorney fee. This follows statements the union leader made in a newspaper report, in which he accused the then Housing Minister of engaging in questionable dealings with NH International Caribbean Chairman Emile Elias in relation to the Landate Project.
Fertility, wigs and things
In 2007, Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis served at the same Ministry under then PNM Leader Patrick Manning. Ganga Singh who was Opposition member at the time, raised the issue of credit-card abuse in Parliament.
He read from a Comptroller report which showed contraventions of the Government’s individual (Visa Gold) travel card by 29 senior officials including Robinson-Regis and seven other ministers.
Among expenses charged to the state's credit card, allegedly by Robinson-Regis, were numerous transactions in New York including transactions at a fertility clinic and a beauty salon.
The details are as follows:
- Several transactions at US$1,000 each conducted at the American Fertility Clinic in June 2006
- Purchase of jewellery at Christies Sothers New York for US$6,420 on June 1, 2006
- Purchase of clothing at Max’s Better Dresses New York for US$259 on June 9, 2006
- Purchase of items at Bitz N Pieces New York for US$607.81 on June 9, 2006, which is a leading wig and hairpiece full-service salon
- Purchase of items at Lighthouse Lighting Corp (New York) for US$3,118.99 on June 13, 2006
According to the Comptroller’s report, Robinson-Regis incurred an expense of $10,951 in April for “private use,” another in May for the same purpose in the sum of $26,352.56 and the biggest in June of $176,453.59.
Robinson-Regis, however, denied the allegations. She said the large sums were cash advances.
Affairs of the "Hart"
For those of you who are too young to remember, meet Calder Hart, a Canadian who migrated to Trinidad and Tobago in 1986. He served as the chief executive officer of the Urban Development Corporation (UDeCOTT) which commissions public infrastructure such as new Government office towers, hospitals, etc, from 2002 to 2010.
He resigned from UDECOTT and four other state boards including the National Insurance Board (NIB), The Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company Limit (TTMF), The National Insurance Property Development Company Limited (NIPDEC) and the Home Mortgage Bank (HMB) on March 6, 2010. This, after allegations of misappropriation of state funds which includes over $600 million in overruns and kickbacks at UDeCOTT as well as corruption.
The very next day, he fled to Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his wife and daughter never to be heard from again.
Some of the allegations against Hart include:
- $820 million dollars in contracts UDeCOTT allegedly awarded to a company at which Hart's in-laws once sat as directors; the Malaysian firm Sunway Construction Caribbean Ltd. The company was responsible for constructing the Ministry of Legal Affairs Towers, which is part of the Government Campus Plaza.
The allegation was first made by then Tabaquite MP, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, in Parliament on May 23, 2008. Prime Minister Patrick Manning repeatedly defended Hart and even fired then Planning Minister Dr Keith Rowley in April of that year after he called for greater oversight over UDeCOTT.
- The Brian Lara Cricket Academy (BLCA) was also at the heart of Hart’s demise. The BLCA was commissioned in 2004 to provide a high-class venue for the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup. The initial cost was $500 million but that skyrocketed to almost twice the initial estimate. The project finished in 2017 to the tune of over TT$1 billion.
- Let's not forget the Las Alturas Towers project which is still a major point of controversy. UDeCOTT was set to construct the housing project at Lady Young Gardens, Morvant, at a cost of $65 million dollars. With all the money spent, faulty construction saw two towers constructed at $26 million earmarked to be demolished after they began falling apart. A commission of inquiry found that Hart would be held accountable.
It was only at the very end that Manning requested Hart’s resignation.
Some argue that it cost him the election.
Panday spends night in jail
Former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday went to jail for one night in 2005 and for those of you who don’t remember, it was because he refused to accept his $750,000 bail.
Yes, HE refused.
Panday and his wife Oma were charged with corruptly receiving money while former Government Minister under the UNC Carlos John and businessman Ishwar Galbaransingh were charged with corruptly giving $25,000 pounds sterling to the couple.
John and Galbaransingh were accused of giving Panday the money as an inducement or reward. If you recall, it was for the construction of the Piarco Airport. Panday reportedly favoured or forbore to disfavour the interest of Northern Construction Ltd in relation to its principal business, namely construction package 3, at the airport.
This was a direct contravention of section 4 (b) of the Prevention of Corruption Act Number 11 of 1987 on or around December 24,1998.
Everyone except the former Prime Minister accessed bail...at first.
...to be continued.
Panday stows illegal money in London account
In April, former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday was found guilty on three counts of failing to declare a London Bank Account to the Integrity Commission for the years 1997, 1998 and 1999. This violates section 27 (1) (b) of the Integrity in Public Life Act of 1987.
Then Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls sentenced him to three years in prison hard labour, however, he would serve two as the sentences would run concurrently.
He was also fined $60,000 ($20,000 for each count). If he failed to pay, he would face an additional three years.
Meanwhile, Panday was also ordered to forfeit the $1.6 million that was in the account.
It was the first time a former Prime Minister was found guilty and sentenced for a criminal offence.
Eleven years later, in June 2012, he was acquitted of all charges by Magistrate Marcia Murray.
She ruled that the Integrity Commission erred by not allowing Panday to appear before a tribunal. She said this meant he was deprived of due process.
Dr Keith Rowley was Opposition leader when he brought a series of printed emails to the Parliament. The emails presented a criminal conspiracy involving then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and members of her Government including Anand Ramlogan (Attorney General), Dr Surujrattan Rambachan (Local Government and Works Minister) and Gary Griffith (Security Advisor).
It was alleged in the emails that Chief Justice Ivor Archie was being pressured by government ministers to appoint Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard as a High Court Judge but Gaspard, who has the final say on whether criminal charges can be filed against someone or not, never applied for such a post.
Another claim made in the emails was to spy on the DPP to know his every move. The emails also suggested efforts to harm and discredit Journalist Denyse Renne.
In July 2019, the Police Service held a press conference in which ASP Michael Pierre said the case was closed. This, after the office of the DPP decided that the evidence, after being examined, did not reach the threshold required for criminal charges.
Meanwhile, now Police Commissioner Gary Griffith who was also accused in the matter, said the emails were not legitimate.
The FBI, TTPS and Integrity Commission all closed the case.
However, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said there was merit to the case. He said investigators found that there was sufficient evidence in the occurrences of the September 2012 and the emails.
Ish, Steve and Piarco Airport
It all started in May 2006 when former UNC financiers Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson were indicted by a Grand Jury in Florida along with six others. They were wanted for offences in relation to corrupt practices.
Ferguson served as Maritime General CEO while Galbaransingh was chairman of the Northern Construction Ltd Group of Companies. Both were to answer 95 fraud charges arising from the $1.6 billion Piarco Airport terminal project.
Ferguson was wanted on an 82-count indictment including charges of laundering US$3,255,345 (TT$20,508,673) between November 24, 2000 and March 28, 2002. Galbaransingh was wanted on a 13-count indictment, including charges of laundering US$1 million (TT$6.3 million) between June 19, 2001 and December 10, 2001.
In July 2006 while in Trinidad and Tobago, the businessmen were served provisional warrants and were each granted $1 million bail.
Then, Attorney General John Jeremie signed the application for both Galbaransingh and Ferguson to be extradited to the United States. They challenged that extradition and lost at the Court of Appeal in December 2007.
Two years later they were committed to be extradited. However, they were once again granted $1 million bail each. They filed habeas corpus applications that were dismissed at the High Court.
In May 2010, it seemed like the men would face a US court when a Court of Appeal ruled that they be extradited by a 2-1 majority. The following month the businessmen took their appeal to the Judicial Committee of the London Privy Council against extradition. Their challenge was again dismissed.
Their bail expired and after calls to their phones went unanswered, a warrant was issued for their arrest. After a nationwide search, they were detained in Point Lisas in June 2010 and they were taken to the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca where they spent almost 10 months.
In March 2011 their bail was increased to $2 million each. That same month they won their judicial review hearing against the decision of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to sign extradition warrants against them. The judge said the decision was “unjust and oppressive”.
…to be continued.
Eight years ago, the ruling United National Congress placed the country under a state of emergency due to the high crime rate.
In November 2011 while the SoE was in effect, Justice Minister Herbert Volney made amendments to Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Bill 2011 at the committee stage. It was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and was proclaimed by President George Maxwell Richards on Independence Day, August 31st 2012.
Section 34’s original clause: "On an application by the accused, a judge shall discharge an accused if the proceedings were instituted prior to the coming into force of this Act and the trial has not commenced within ten years after the proceedings were instituted."
Section 34’s amended clause: "A Judge shall on an application by the accused, discharge the accused and record a verdict of not guilty if the offence is alleged to have been committed on a date that is ten years or more before the date of the application."
Section 34 also changed the limitation on prosecution of certain offences from ten years from the date the individual or individuals were charged to ten years from the date the alleged offence was carried out.
This change was linked by reporter Denyse Renne to the Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson case. They were among a group of over 40 individuals that would benefit from the amendment.
The businessmen went to court hours after the proclamation to have their matters dismissed.
The then Opposition People’s National Movement held a rally calling for the act to be repealed. After a two-day emergency session, it was.
Volney, a former Supreme Court Judge, was fired as Minister. Meanwhile, the Privy Council in London ruled that the repeal of the law was just.
Then came the appointment of former Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar to the High Court bench in 2018 which saw 53 cases unfinished including that of Ferguson and Galbaransingh.
The two men attempted to join the state's interpretation lawsuit over Ayers-Caesar's appointment. However, the matter was dismissed.
The duo along with three businessmen facing fraud charges out of the construction of the Piarco International Airport had filed the application because the magistrate hearing their case retired leaving their preliminary inquiry incomplete.