Errol Pilgrim

Nothing seems to have rattled the composure of UNC Oropouche East parliamentarian Dr Roodal Moonilal as deeply as the decision by the Government to retain the services of British legal and investigative expertise in ongoing fraud and corruption investigations in which he is deemed a “person of interest”.

Speaking in the recently-ended budget debate in the House of Representatives, the angry Opposition parliamentarian even resorted to calling the foreign professionals a “white-collar mongoose gang”.

Deeming it a “private prosecution”, Dr Moonilal took issue with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for having approved some $66 million for a company in England to “conduct investigations against his political opponents”.

“That is the most dangerous development for our democracy,” he declared.

The money approved by Dr Rowley, as head of the National Security Council, was for the Police Service to retain the services of a specialised team of private investigators and forensic accountants from the United Kingdom.

It provided the wherewithal for the engagement of a number of English law firms to provide professional services to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, specifically with a view to helping police officers assigned to the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau complete their investigations into high-profile, politically sensitive cases.

Those matters include alleged bid-rigging and kickbacks from a $549 million road-development contract awarded by the Estate Management and Business Development Company (EMBD) on the eve of the 2015 general election under the former UNC administration; the $400 million spent during the LifeSport programme under the same administration, a programme that deteriorated into a criminal enterprise whose atrocities included murder and a general mushrooming of gang warfare along the East-West Corridor; and million-dollar deposits into the account of a relative of a UNC politician.

Retained in this massive effort at justice for the people of Trinidad and Tobago are the UK firms Edmonds, Marshall and McMahon Ltd, Open Text UK Ltd and PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services Ltd.

Enlisting the services of foreign experts to assist the police in complex white-collar crime investigations is nothing new to Trinidad and Tobago. Among the most high-profiled of such actions in the past was the decision of a former PNM administration to retain forensic accountant Bob Lindquist and his team to assist police in the probe into widespread malfeasance pertaining to the $1.6 billion Piarco Airport Development Project under a former UNC regime. That probe resulted in former ministers, contractors and foreign firms being charged with a host of criminal offences.

It is no doubt to the chagrin of Dr Moonilal that the more recent hiring of foreign expertise has already started bearing ample fruit.

In a virtual hearing in early August, High Court Justice James Aboud ruled there was sufficient evidence for a trial to commence in the corruption matter brought by the EMBD against ex-employees, former housing minister Dr Roodal Moonilal and five contractors.

Apart from Dr Moonilal, the other defendants are TN Ramnauth and Company Ltd, Taradauth Ramnauth, Kall Co Ltd, Mootilal Ramhit and Sons Contracting Ltd.

Facing related action are Gary Parmassar, Madho Balroop, Andrew Walker, Fides Limited, Namalco Construction Services Ltd and LCB contractors Ltd.

The lawsuit, initially filed on November 20, 2017, alleges bribery; breach of fiduciary duty on the part of Dr Moonilal and three senior officers of the EMBD; collusion or unlawful means conspiracy and knowing receipt of dishonest assistance.

The EMBD also made declarations that the awarded contracts were void after three companies filed separate claims for sums allegedly owed to them for road construction works three months before the 2015 general election.

EMBD said the three claimants colluded among themselves—and with the other defendants in the related action—and were involved in an unlawful means conspiracy that led to the award of 12 contracts and the payment of hundreds of millions for defective and overpriced work.

According to news reports, in a three-hour long summary of his decision, Justice Aboud held there was compelling evidence of collusion from what was pleaded by the EMBD in its 1,556-plus-page statement of case.

In addition to the EMBD lawsuit against Dr Moonilal, the judge is also presiding over a consolidated case in which three companies have sued the State-owned EMBD over unpaid contracts for the upgrade and rehabilitation of certain Caroni access roads and two contracts for rehabilitation works.

In its counter suit, EMBD is seeking repayment of sums paid to the contractors, identified as TN Ramnauth and Co; Kall Co Ltd; Mootilal Ramhit and Sons; and Fides Ltd.

The EMBD claim against Dr Moonilal includes former EMBD chief executive Gary Parmassar, former divisional manager at EMBD Madhoo Balroop, Andrew Walker, and companies Fides Ltd, Namalco Construction and LCB Contractors.

Moonilal and the others were accused of engaging in an elaborate scheme of bid-rigging, bribery and collusion which led to a staggering $549 million being disbursed to five contractors just before the 2015 general election. They are accused of colluding among themselves to ensure that specific companies, by a wrongful and unlawful agreement, were awarded specific contracts at inflated amounts and received payments that were not due.

The complex alleged fraud scheme was described as a “cartel arrangement” in an unlawful scheme conspiracy.

But the fact of the ruling of Justice Aboud that there is sufficient evidence for a trial not only points to the unravelling success of the relentless police investigation, it vindicates the decision by Prime Minister Rowley to enlist the assistance of British legal and investigative expertise to help with that investigation.

What reeks of utter desperation in his contribution to the budget debate is Dr Moonilal’s prediction of a collapse of the entire Trinidad and Tobago Police Service because the sums that were used to attack massive fraud on behalf of the country’s taxpayers could have been used to better equip the Police Service toward greater efficiency.

Yet he had the temerity to open his contribution by informing the Parliament that he had “no cocoa in the sun”.

“I am no cocoa farmer,” he said, completely disregarding the possibility that a cocoa farmer might not wish to be in Dr Moonilal’s shoes.

—Author Errol Pilgrim is a veteran journalist.

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