Describing it as “shocking” and “astonishing”, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat said yesterday he has unearthed cases of fraud involving State as well as private land.
And, he added, he has been working closely with the Fraud Squad on the matter.
Rambharat made the disclosures to the media during a lease letter distribution programme at the Agriculture Ministry’s head office in Chaguanas.
“I have been working closely with the Fraud Squad. I have regular contact with them because they are the ones to do the investigation. It is a big concern to me, the extent to which we have land fraud, not only in State lands but in private transactions, too,” he said.
Rambharat said in these cases, ordinary people are sometimes conned of hundreds of thousands of dollars for land they do not get.
The particularly “dangerous” cases were those in which people sell State land for which they have no kind of legal title, he said.
“There are cases where people do not have legal lease to the land and may just be occupying it, or they may not even be anywhere near the land. And they create documents, or may not even have them, and just take people’s money promising them land. Some people are gullible. They feel they get a deal and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars pass,” he added.
Citing a case, Rambharat said, “Last week Friday,a lady contacted me. She and her husband, a security guard, were approached to buy a parcel of State land and paid $160,000 towards it. And the person who took their money can’t seem to be able to give them the land, and they have been having a serious runaround with it.”
He said there could be cases, too, where somebody has a lease from the State and wants to transfer it to someone else and the two parties get into a private transaction.
He pointed to a “shocking” matter involving Caroni 1975 Ltd land, in which people created fraudulent letterheads, names and job titles to support the transaction.
“Thankfully, as it came to me, I was familiar with the original application which was made in 2001, and knew that the Caroni board had turned down the request for the land. And I was able to look at all the letters and know they were fraudulent, that the names were those of non-existent people,” he said.
He said the more he has been talking about land fraud in the country, more people have been coming forward with cases, and “every single day I get something from a member of the public”.
Rambharat appealed to members of the public to be very careful in dealing with land matters and to work with reputable lawyers.
“If there’s any matter dealing with State land they’re involved in, just send me a letter or contact my office so I or the Commissioner of State Lands can guide them and they will be protected,” he said.
Disclosing another land fraud case, this time involving private land, he said over the Christmas period he was approached by a family living in the UK, and when they sent him information he was astonished.
“It deals with a deed for a parcel of private land in San Fernando which was signed and registered by somebody five years after the person died. When you see something like that, it raised serious concerns because to do a fraudulent deed, you have to either convince a lawyer or you have to fake the signature of a lawyer and fake the signature of witnesses,” he said.
The minister also noted the National Agricultural Marketing Development Company has on its register 12,000 farmers, but the ministry believes there is around 8,000 active farmers in the country.
Some 28 people turned up at the ministry yesterday to collect lease letters.
They were letters of renewal for regularised land and leases in which errors were corrected. There were letters involving people who held leases and who had died and the documents were transferred to children.
Another lease letter distribution will be done in North-East Trinidad over the next week.