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Govt files suit against Hart
In a bid to recover billions of taxpayers’ dollars, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan yesterday afternoon filed a lawsuit against former executive chairman of Urban Development Company of T&T (Udecott) John Calder Hart in the Port-of-Spain High Court. Similar civil suits are expected to be filed which will involve former board members of several State enterprises.
Ramlogan said: “There would be another matter filed, concerning the World GTL Project at Petrotrin, against the former board of directors at Petrotrin and that would be filed in the coming days. “There would be a claim to be filed against the former board of the University of T&T (UTT) concerning the construction of buildings and, in particular, the lease of the guesthouse of which Rev Juliana Pena was a guest for a long period, even though she was not a member of staff.”
He said there was also a matter involving TTEC’s former chairman Omar Khan with respect to the findings of probes. He added: “There are other claims which would emanate out of the probes at Petrotrin and eTeck, the medical transcription and the bio-project, as well as other matters.
“These would now be rapidly unfolding in the coming months and where there are grounds to pursue former boards and former chairmen, this Government would not shirk in its responsibility to ensure that those who are culpable are brought to justice in the civil courts,” Ramlogan said.
He noted Hart’s suit was the third the Government had filed, after a suits against eTecK, which is at an advanced stage, and one to protect the State’s investment in the G-pan. The suit against Hart, Ramlogan explained, focused on two matters:
The “fiasco” surrounding the construction of the Brian Lara Cricket Academy, and secondly against Hart alone, regarding his breach of faith towards the board of Udecott in concealing his family connection with CH Development and Construction Pte Ltd, which successfully bid to construct the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower.
In a press conference at the Waterfront Complex, Port-of-Spain, Ramlogan said during construction of the cricket academy, valued at $242,822,500, advance payments were made by Udecott to Hafeez Karamath Ltd, totalling over $120 million. He said: “Bonds were taken out to secure those payments. There were provisions as to extending the duration of those bonds. Incredibly, they were allowed to lapse.”
Describing the academy as a “prestige project” meant to showcase the nation for the ICC World Cup, Ramlogan said:
“Its failure is a matter of national shame. The main reason as to why the project was not completed in time or at all, and as to why costs escalated into the stratosphere, was because the board of directors chose HKL to carry out the majority of the construction work, and HKL had neither the money nor the expertise to undertake the job.”
Ramlogan said Hart’s role was particularly significant. He said past dealings with HKL, over its bid for the Customs and Excise Building and the Ministry of Legal Affairs (MLA) Tower, had revealed its total unsuitability. The MLA Tower bid, Ramlogan said, was won by CH Development.
He said a report prepared for the evaluation team on tenders for the Customs and Excise building had left “no doubt” as to HKL’s lack of the finance and expertise needed to carry out a project, such as the cricket academy. Saying it took one-and-a-half years of “intense investigation,” Ramlogan said the case was preceded by a pre-action protocol letter citing details of the proposed claim, which was sent to Hart on October 17, 2011 to give him an opportunity to respond.
Ramlogan said Hart responded personally on November 12, 2011, asking for copies of “numerous and voluminous” reports from Udecott. Ramlogan said, Hart was given “full and frank disclosure” of the matter. He added: “Mr Hart, in breach of the said protocol, failed and/or refused to respond to this pre-action letter.
“This means that he has not denied the claim. “In the circumstances, Udecott and the State were left with no alternative but to file the claim in court, and let the chips fall where they must.” On issues of perjury and criminal charges, he said those were for the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police.
In outlining the damages Government hopes to recover, Ramlogan said with respect to the failure to ensure the advance-payment bonds were renewed, an estimated $65,680,978.88. The damages at large for breach of fiduciary duty would be the cost to complete the Brian Lara Stadium which was likely to exceed $225 million, Ramlogan added. He said: “In addition to that, we would have to also add the costs that were already sunk into the project.
“We will have to have a proper evaluation of the work done on that project to see the value of the work that should have been done, compare it to the value of the work that was in fact done, and now add to that the cost of remedying the deficiencies... that is likely to run into hundreds of millions of dollars.”
How the lawsuit can be served. Ramlogan said one of Hart’s lawyers or his son, James, can accept the court proceedings. He said the State can also asked the court to have the documents served on Hart at his Ft Lauderdale residence or place an advertisement in the local newspapers. “That would be deemed to be good service in our law,” Ramlogan added.
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