Clico’s former corporate secretary, Geoffrey Leid, testified yesterday the $800 million debenture that the insurance company held over the fixed and floating assets of its parent company, CL Financial, in December 2008 was breached in several ways during his stewardship. Giving evidence before the Clico/HCU Commission of Enquiry, which resumed yesterday, Leid was responding to an aggressive line of cross-examination by the commission’s lead attorney, Peter Carter. Leid, who also served as the attorney for Lawrence Duprey in his capacity as the CL Financial chairman, confirmed Clico did not approve the payment by CL Financial of dividends in January 2009, contrary to the terms of the debenture. He also acknowledged that Clico did not provide written consents to CL Financial for investments undertaken by the conglomerate with Clico funds, as provided for in the debenture.
Leid, who was appointed as Clico’s corporate secretary in June 2007, and joined the board in October of that year, said he envisaged in June 2008 the insurance company might develop a statutory fund deficit by December 2008, based on its assets and liabilities. The Clico board came up with a three-pronged strategy in August 2008 to cure the looming deficit, Leid testified. The strategy included the transfer of land, worth $1.5 billion, from the Home Construction Ltd’s land bank to Clico, the sale of a repo-type instrument and the transfer of shares in Methanol Holdings (Trinidad) Ltd from CL Financial to Clico. But Clico’s plans to satisfy the Statutory Fund deficit were scuppered by the Central Bank’s change in valuation procedures, which had the effect of disqualifying some of the related-party assets that would have gone into the fund. He also said in October 2008, according to its books, Clico had a fixed CIB deposit of $4 billion but he agreed with Carter that the deposit was “almost worthless.”
As a last-ditch effort to save Clico in the face of a liquidity crisis in December 2008, Leid said the board of the insurer decided in the Christmas week of 2008 to call in the $800 million debenture that Clico held over CL Financial. The calling of the debenture, which grew to $1.3 billion by January 30, 2009, would have required CL Financial to sell assets to repay Clico, which was chaired by Lawrence Duprey at the time. But instead of calling in the debenture, according to Leid’s testimony, Duprey began to negotiate with the Government for a bailout three weeks later. Under cross-examination by Carter, Leid said he did not consider he was in a conflict of interest when he served as Clico’s corporate secretary and as the legal adviser to Duprey, the CL Financial chairman. Although conceding later there was a “potential” conflict of interest, he said that once the Clico board agreed that the debenture should be called in, the potential conflict was no longer an issue.
Leid also spoke about the fierce competition between Clico and its sister insurance company, British American, to attract funds during 2008, which led to Clico offering unsustainable interest rates on new money pumped into its Executive Flexible Premium Annuity. He blamed Ian Garcia, Clico’s sales and marketing manager in 2008, for the decision to increase the interest rates offered on the insurer’s short-term annuity products, a decision, he said, that never received the sanction of the company’s board. Asked by Carter how he accounted for Clico’s failure, Leid attributed the company’s plight to the interest rates it offered in 2008. Carter put to Leid that another contributory factor was the fact that some of the money that Clico received from its policyholders was used to pay other group companies. Carter then led Leid to a document which revealed that Clico funded $300 million of the CL Financial group expenses in 2008.
Leid revealed earlier that he was also a founder of the DYL Group of Florida, a development company. DYL was described by an Internet report as one of Florida’s most active developers, specialising in hotels, resorts, luxury high-rises, residential condominiums, which had as its partner CLF. Asked why DYL was formed, Leid replied there were contractual issues with the previous development company. He added: “We thought it prudent to form another company to take over development with jurisdiction over Florida.” Its developments included Infinity, the W Fort Lauderdale Hotel & Residences and Europa By-The-Sea, he disclosed. Between 2002 and 2004, during its incubation stages, a substantial amount of money was sent up to begin the projects, the commission heard.
The W Hotel project was undertaken by Clico and in 2005 the development was sold to the Core Series Mutual Fund. The Infinity and Europa projects were owned by British American and its subsidiaries, Leid said. He said he was no longer a director/shareholder in DYL because he had a three-year arrangement with the company.
He said he understood that DYL was still doing business with Clico and said he got no commission and received no consultancy fees between 2006 and 2008. Asked who paid DYL for the W Hotel project, Leid said the Core Series Mutual Fund and Clico together contributed US$80 million in equity, while the development company borrowed US$245 million from a German bank in New York. Leid said he and Duprey were founding members of DYL which was incorporated in Florida in November 2005.