SEVEN attorneys have been named as subjects of an investigation in what could involve dozens of transactions in legal matters where payments were made by the State during Anand Ramlogan’s tenure as attorney general.

This according to official sour­ces, who said the named attorneys were involved in a number of different briefs and intersected with many other attorneys.

The probe extends into the payment of all legal fees, totalling about $1.4 billion, during Ramlogan’s tenure.

Informed sources said under the alleged scheme, certain attorneys were “taxed” liberally, with a propor­tion of substantial sums paid as legal fees being diverted to a particular official.

The scheme was “cross-jurisdictional”, involving the United States, United Kingdom and Trinidad and Tobago.

A specialist unit in the T&T Police Service (TTPS), incorporating local and foreign expertise and including forensic auditors, experts in serious fraud and expert lawyers, has been working in T&T since Sep­tember 2018 to consolidate the evidence required to support prose­cution.

Some of the foreign persons were ex-policemen and investigators from the UK’s serious fraud office, a department which investi­gates and prosecutes serious and complex fraud and corruption.

They were incorporated into the TTPS as SRPs (special reserve police officers).

Queen’s Counsel Vincent Nelson’s guilty plea last week was the first ever entered under the new plea bargaining arrangements created under the Plea Bargain Amendment Bill, which was piloted by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi last year.

He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit misbehaviour in public office and conspiracy to commit an act of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

These offences are also specified offences under the unexplained wealth legis­lation, the Miscellaneous Provision Act, also recently passed, and feed into the Income Amendment Bill and the amendment to the Proceeds of Crime Act.

They are also linked to the Finan­cial Action Task Force (FATF) and Global Forum arrangements.

Early outrage over fees

Concern and questions over the quantum of legal fees paid to attorneys was a consistent preoccupation throughout the tenure of the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration and Anand Ramlogan’s occupation of the Office of Attorney General.

It was very early in his tenure as opposition leader that Dr Keith Rowley raised what he saw as an “eat ah food” frenzy in the expenditure on and distribution of legal fees and briefs.

Contributing to his first budget debate as opposition leader on September 14, 2010, Rowley noted that then attorney general Ramlogan had appointed an “A-Team...where A stands for Anand” to conduct investigations in UTT (University of Trinidad and Tobago), Petrotrin, eTecK (Evolving Tecknologies and Enterprise Development Company Ltd), Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago, T&TEC (Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission), Scarborough Hospital and the fast ferry, all activities associated with the previous People’s National Move­ment (PNM) government.

The team included UK QCs Allan Newman and Vincent Nelson; Gerald Ramdeen; British firms Alix Partners Ltd and AFA Law (whose principal is Akbar Ali), Lindquist Forensic Accounting, and Ernst and Young.

“We are advised that the members of this team are all very close friends and associates of the attorney general; five of which are lawyers...one big, happy legal family, brothers-in-law,” Rowley said.

Speaking in the Supplemental Appropriation Bill in the House of Representatives on June 1, 2011, Rowley said: “I just want to flag that we are noting a growth in this pool of funds that is meant to pay lawyers to conduct this thing called ‘forensic legal audit’, and even as we are making these payments, we are not hearing about any deliverables—tens of millions being paid, including to two British QCs....

“I am talking to the allocation of the Ministry of the Attorney General to do something which is described as a legal or a forensic legal audit. I would like to see the terms of reference for these forensic legal audits because in the absence of proper terms of reference, and payments to high-priced, high-class lawyers, we may very well be feeding people from the Treasury and receiving precious little in return.

“Because this government that is so garrulous and quick to ‘buss mark’, they have this serious legal team investigating all these enterprises and they are very silent on the outcome,” Rowley thun­dered.

On November 9, 2011, in response to questions from Rowley in the Parliament on the expenditure on legal fees, the attorneys or legal team hired for what assignment and the nature of the output, Ramlogan said out of $45.5 million paid out in legal fees between June 2010 and August, 2011, $30.7 million was to “clean up what (the debt) they (the Manning government) left behind”.

Ramlogan also revealed the terms of expenditure on the A-Team. A total of $34.6 million had been paid to date, including:

Newman..............................$1.48 million

Nelson...................................$2.66 million

Ramdeen....................................$1 million

Alix Partners......................$17.4 million

AFA law....................................$2.1 million

Lindquist................................$1.3 million

Ernst and Young................$8.6 million

In his second budget speech as opposition leader, Rowley returned to the issue of the exorbitant expenditure on legal fees: “The Minister of Finance has budgeted for the attorney general to spend $94.5 million on external lawyers. The only area of growth, Mr Speaker, in this government was in the Ministry of the Attorney General...over 100 per cent increase.”

Alarm over legal expenditure

By March 2012, then-opposition leader Rowley held a news conference to demand that Ramlogan explain the nature of his relationship with certain attorneys who had been consistently benefiting from State largesse.

“The attorney general is the only public officer who has a significant pot of money where he decides who gets it, how much they get and how often they get, and he doesn’t have to report to anybody what he gets in return for the money he puts out.

“There is no competitive bidding; it is simply the good graces of the attorney general,” Rowley said.

He said this arrangement could not be countenanced by the people of T&T in the way it was being done.

He said before Ramlogan’s tenure, the maximum annual allocation to hire private counsel was $40 million, but in less than two years, the sum had escalated to over $200 million.

In his fourth budget response on September 12, 2014, Rowley detailed the increases in legal fees paid by the AG’s office under Ramlogan.

“In 2010 when this government landed on this country, the alloca­tion for fees for attorneys in the Attorney General’s Office was $36 million, which he broke down as follows:

2011.............................................$108 million

2012.................................................$94 million

2013.............................................$103 million

2014.............................................$111 million

“...And in this (the last for the Partnership government) budget (2015), $130 million for fees for lawyers, for a total, since 2010 when this government came in, of $600 million.... And may I say, that is only in the Attorney General’s Office.

“This has nothing to do with the instructions to State enterprises to hire more (external) lawyers...some of those same lawyers are hired...under specific instructions to do specific cases. So this $600 million is only a piece of the wedge. If the true story is known, it may be over $1 billion in legal fees,” Rowley said.

In May 2013, two former AGs, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and John Jeremie at a joint press conference, had called for a police investigation into the legal fees paid out during Ramlogan’s tenure as well as a forensic audit into the financial documents of the Office of the Attorney General.

The baton on the issue of legal fees was then taken up by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.

In his budget contribution in the House of Representatives in Octo­ber 2016, the Attorney General spoke of the “madness” that had taken place under his predecessor.

“Let me give you an example. You will recall the mad rush by the last government to deal with the Central Authority’s request for the extradition of Jack Warner. In the Magistrates’ Court alone, the bill sent in by lawyers, including Gerald Ramdeen, etc, was $15.48 million. That is before we go to the authority to proceed (with the matter), before we get to any steps involving the High Court, Court of Appeal and Privy Council.

“Do you know how much we (PNM) spent this year on that (same) matter? $464,000!” Al-Rawi said.

The Attorney General said he was putting the questions to Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar: “When one person, Gerald Ramdeen, sends in bills for $32.8 million, what is that? When Allan Newman QC sends in a bill accumulated to $58.16 million, what is that? When...Akbar Ali sends in bills for $38.8 million, what is that?”

“Madness!” an outraged Finance Minister Colm Imbert offered.

“Another gentleman, junior counsel, (his bill) $30.5 million,” Al-Rawi said.

“Junior counsel?” Prime Minister Rowley exclaimed in disbelief.

“Another junior counsel, $34.6 mil­lion,” the Attorney General ad­ded.

“Vincent Nelson QC $55.5 million,” Al-Rawi declaimed.

“One man?” Imbert asked credu­lously. “They open the Treasury door!” the Prime Minister chimed in.

Eight and a half years after the PM first expressed his unease with the increases in legal fees, Ramlogan and Ramdeen have been charged with conspiracy ari­sing out of the payment of these legal fees.

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