Covid-19-related litigation has cost the State $14.5 million, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi disclosed yesterday.
“The UNC-led Covid litigation had cost some millions of dollars,” he said at a virtual news conference.
The matters involved challenges to the validity of the Covid regulations, including the decision to close the country’s borders.
The Attorney General also said he would “love for the CLICO matter to be at an end so I can provide the information that is asked of me”.
After expenditure of $181 million, a request in this financial year for a further $33 million and a “line of sight” of expenditure of an additional $26 million, the investigation arising out of the collapse of the CLICO empire in 2009 is yet to be concluded in 2021.
He said he would also “love” for the Piarco Airport matter to be completed so he could account for every “black or red cent” spent in relation to that.
“I would love for the criminal investigations begun in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 to all be at an end,” he said.
The Attorney General defended his decision not to engage in “premature disclosure”.
He said the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions had been at pains to warn, including members of the Government, to say as little as possible in relation to matters under investigation.
Al-Rawi insisted that “there has been absolutely no refusal to provide disclosure”.
But, he said Government had to take care and make sure that it did not interrupt sensitive, criminal and investigative matters which straddle the boundaries of the DPP, criminal prosecution agencies in other countries and the civil obligations of the Attorney General under which anti-terrorism and money laundering fall.
“We have to make sure that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” he said. “We would love to give you all the scandal and the bacchanal that come with allegations from this end.”
He revealed that the Office of the Attorney General was being advised by Fyard Hosein, SC, in its approach to requests for information on legal fees and other details with respect to attorneys engaged by the State.
Asked if Hosein, whose remuneration would be included in any disclosure, was an appropriate choice for receiving such advice, he said: “I certainly would not pour scorn upon a prominent Senior Counsel like Mr Hosein giving advice to the Office of the Attorney General. He is the team leader for that advice.”
He said the advice given by Senior Counsel said “premature disclosure” could lead to cases being thrown out at the courts due to pre-trial publicity or undue disclosure.
The Attorney General took issue with yesterday’s “Top Secret” headline in the Express.
He said the “sensitive matters” for which Government retained counsel and could not disclose details of their earnings and other matters, were matters for which “we are cautioned by law against premature disclosure”.
They include matters which fall under the Proceeds of Crime Act, the Civil Asset Recovery and Unexplained Wealth Act, certain drug trafficking matters, money laundering matters, serious fraud cases, “certain matters inside and in relation to the prisons of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago” and “certain high-risk matters also including anti-terrorism matters”, he said.
He stated further the sensitive matters included recommendations for investigations which came from certain international agencies and governments.
“In the caution offered by Senior Counsel in not yet disclosing these matters—the disclosure for these matters intended to be given when the matters are complete—I can tell you the following: many of these matters are designed such that an assiduous enquirer ought not to understand what is being said,” the Attorney General said.
Al-Rawi said it was “not a mystery that many people who have serious issues to answer in the courts would want to continue to press for premature disclosure under the guise of transparency requests”.
The Attorney General said the only things that were not being disclosed were those matters which were sensitive in nature and for which “we are required in law to ask for permission and after that, when you receive the permission, to make a determination under the Freedom of Information request. Because you ought to lean towards disclosure and transparency. In those matters some of which I am able to explain now without going into the particulars, I am able to say that some of those matters include the following areas—there is a very large scale investigation that is engaging the attention of the Central Authority...that involves cross-jurisdictional bribery claims right here in T&T. That matter is at a very advanced state of prosecution in a non-Commonwealth jurisdiction and I am embargoed, I am prohibited, from disclosing the particulars around those investigations and also from revealing invoices, etc which would detail the steps taken in court and also the persons who are conducting investigations. Because when an attorney at law engages in an investigation and a particular auditor or forensic person is involved, that is included in the invoice information. That matter is the matter of concern not only in Trinidad and Tobago but it is also a matter of concern in several Caribbean islands and will and has involved the direct participation of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.”
Piarco Airport US$43 million claim on the cusp of trial in US
There was also the matter of the Piarco Airport civil proceedings which started in 2004 in the United States.
“We are in the middle of a civil trial which involves an initial claim of US$105 million in damages...under the RICO statute. Refined damages now stand in excess of US$43 million or close to $300 million. That matter is at the cusp of trial and the Office of the DPP has a step to take in that matter—of an indictment to be filed. We have been waiting and requesting (of the DPP) that (an indictment) for approximately two years now and once that step is taken, we will be able to bring that information into the public domain including the legal fees spent,” he said.
He said there was another matter involving money laundering and serious fraud charges.
He said the Office of the DPP “has yet to take the step to file an indictment in that particular matter. But that matter is a live matter before the courts.”
The Attorney General said there was also the CLICO investigation.
He said he had recused himself from that management of the CLICO investigation because he once served as a director on CLICO Investment Bank (CIB).
He said some of the information requested for a further $33 million to be paid in relation to the CLICO investigation.
“And that stands on top of $181 million already paid in aggregate in that matter so far. So that is $33 million added to $181 million with a line of sight of approximately $26 million (more),” he said.