A GROUP of estate police officers, formerly employed with ex RBTT Bank/RBC, have written to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley complaining that the Canada-owned bank may have breached T&T’s income tax laws in dealing with their separation.
The letter is dated December 27, 2019, but was hand-delivered to the Office of the Prime Minister on January7, 2020. The letter was copied to Attorney General, Faris Al-Rawi, and to President Paula-Mae Weekes.
The letter, was authored by Estate Sergeant Randy Rattansingh, on behalf of other Royal Bank Estate Police staff along with other bank employees, were made redundant during the calendar periods 2014-2015. About 140 RBC estate police officers were made redundant.
“I am writing to you on behalf of this group concerning what we believe to be a breach of the income tax laws of Trinidad and Tobago. Apart from our group and this matter, there are currently several ex-RBTT Bank/RBC Royal Bank staff members before the courts challenging their respective retirement/redundancy packages,” according to the letter.
It explained that in 1998, Royal Bank (formerly RBTT Bank) introduced the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) to their staff as part of their restructured retirement package initiative.
The estate police officers noted that in 2013, a former RBC employee, Deborah Braithwaite, challenged her retirement ESOP package and was awarded the additional sum due to her High Court judge Judith Jones.
Delivering judgment on April 12, 2013, Justice Jones awarded Braithwaite $950,142.88, comprising the sum of $630,016 representing the balance due to her upon retirement and representing the value of her 39,376 ESOP II units and the sum of $320,126.88, representing dividends accrued on those units over the period March 31, 1999 to March 31, 2007.
They said there were a number of issues they wanted to bring to the Prime Minister’s attention:
• Questionable income tax
deduction from ESOP Packages
The former RBC estate police officers cited a tax deduction of $60,011.07 that was withdrawn from the ESOP redundancy package of one of them. They told the Prime Minister that that colleague wrote to RBC in 2018, requesting respective TD4 form to file for his annual return and also queried the reasoning for said deduction.
The bank explained the deduction was withholding tax. But when the estate police officer consulted the Income Tax Act, and approached other banking associates, he was told that withholding tax is for non-nationals. The officer is a Trinidadian by birth, and has not given up his citizenship nor does he hold dual citizenship, nor hold any allegiance to any other country.
The letter stated: “Other ex RBTT Bank / RBC Royal Bank Estate Police officers also noticed similar deductions on their respective redundancy statements. They also approached the bank for an explanation but as to date have not received a response. In August 2018 the Group wrote The Board of Inland Revenue Compliance Unit seeking assistance, however after over one year, they too have not replied.”
The estate police officers also cited the situation of two non-estate police staff members who brought their matter to their attention. Those two former RBC staffers accepted out-of-court settlements in 2016, both hired the same attorney, and insisted RBC provide a TD4 form as part of the agreement.
“The documents issued looked questionable and they approached The Board of Inland Revenue Criminal Tax Investigative Unit for clarification. The Unit indicated the format was not consistent with ESOP plans, and also noticed the amounts quoted on the documents to file and the agreements were different. They advised the staff to approach the bank for explanations, purchase a copy of the Income Tax Act 75:01, and seek proper legal advice,” according to the letter.
• Conduct of attorneys.
The two non-estate police staff members approached RBC for explanations as advised by The Board of Inland Revenue.
“The explanation offered by the bank with regard to the difference in the TD4 and their out of office settlements was a payment made by the bank to the two ex-staff members’ attorney. This payment was requested by the two ex-staff members’ attorney.”
The letter states that this payment was made without the authorisation and knowledge of the two ex-staff members.
“In addition, the two ex-staff members were taxed the full settlement amounts as shown on their respective TD4 inclusive of the unauthorized difference given to the attorney. Both ex-staff members questioned the bank about the issue of these payments to their attorney as this was not the bank’s attorney nor was permission given to deduct such payments as well as legality of someone else income and taxes recorded on their documents and respective TD4. RBC stated in writing these payments were done within the law.”
These former RBC staffers are questioning the payments to their attorney and whether the attorneys properly represented them.
The letter also references the Government’s tax amnesty, which ended in September 2019, stating that “numerous staff have approached RBC for documents to file taxes, however the bank refused to provide or even respond to requests.”
The estate police officers requested the Prime Minister’s “kind assistance” to launch an investigation into these matters as RBC has closed about a dozen branches in T&T and only last month the sale of its operations in eight Eastern Caribbean countries, comprising branches in Antigua, Dominica, Montserrat, St Lucia and St Kitts and Nevis, as well as regional businesses in Nevis, Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Contacted for comment, a RBC spokesperson said the bank is aware of the letter and that a comment would be forthcoming.