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Harry: Don’t blame me for depositors’ plight
Breathing fire and brimstone and charging he was the victim of a witch hunt, Harry Harnarine, former president of the Hindu Credit Union (HCU), appeared before the Clico/HCU commission of enquiry yesterday, declaring that depositors’ money is “very safe”. A long-awaited witness, Harnarine appeared before the commission at Winsure Building, Port-of-Spain, at the tailend of the enquiry.
“Their monies are very safe. They could get it when they want,” he said. He added, though, that it depended on “risk factors” determined by the liquidator. Noting he still regards members’ interest as paramount, Harnarine said he and relatives have $9 million and probably more invested in the HCU.
Attorney Deborah Peake countered that searches came up with 31 family members who had a total of $5.9 million, but who also had a total indebtedness of $6.6 million at the HCU. Further, Harnarine himself, according to a July 2012 letter from the liquidator owed the HCU close to $4 million, Peake said.
Harnarine, explaining why his payments were not up to date, said when the HCU went into liquidation, he became unemployed. Asked why a foreign-used Land Cruiser vehicle sold by his wife, Roma Maharaj-Harnarine, to the HCU for $430,000 is still registered in her name, Harnarine said there were problems getting it transferred at the Licensing Office.
Peake said in July 2012, under Harnarine’s stewardship, depositors were deprived of thousands of dollars. Some said they lost savings, some could not get money for medical treatment and died, she said. “I don’t accept personal responsibility,” Harnarine said. “I have empathy for them but these are the consequences of a financial run,” he said.
Asked why directors were paid huge salaries, he said they were in their late 40s and 50s and were almost in the winter of their service. Harnarine himself, between 2000 and 2008, was paid close to $6 million in Christmas bonuses, commissions, salaries and reimbursement of expenses, Peake said.
Harnarine said the money was paid to him for his services as chairman of the HCU Financial Group of Companies. On an emotional note, he blamed racism and “bad press” for the destruction of the HCU and the maligning of his character. The genesis of the matter began when former Trinidad & Tobago Television television presenter, Shelly Dass, carried a report that the HCU was in receivership.
Devant Maharaj, formerly head of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin, now Food Production Minister, called a press conference after and the media ran away with the story, Harnarine said. Racism entered the picture and it was said he was trying to create a “creole credit union. They were saying Harry taking money and giving it to creole, a creole credit union.”
Even a grab for political power by rival politicians was blamed. Harnarine said there was an onslaught in 2007 on the HCU by Maharaj, Anand Ramlogan, now Attorney General, but a lawyer at the time, and Sat Maharaj, head of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha. “It all had to do with a split between the Congress of the People and the United National Congress,” he said.
An interview with former UNC leader and prime minister, Basdeo Panday, on Radio Shakti, owned by the HCU, played a major role, he said. Harnarine said Panday invited COP members to vote for the UNC and promised to share political power with them. After that, Ramlogan and Inshan Ishmael, a COP member, called for Harry’s neck and the destruction of the HCU, he said.
His attorney, Fareed Scoon, interjected, “You have been demonised in the press. A lot of lies, untruths were said in the enquiry.” Harnarine replied it was hard on his children. Indicating that the commission was on a witch hunt, he said: “This is only about Harry. There is no mention of anybody else.” He said the enquiry seems to be about protecting Government officials and coming down hard on him.
Asked about his alleged threats to put a garland of fire around the liquidator’s neck, Harnarine said he is very philosophical and was at the time quoting Nelson Mandela who spoke about putting a burning tyre around the necks of perceived enemies. Thanking God for the enquiry, nevertheless, Harnarine said up to this day he never got a report from auditors, Ernst & Young.
The Ministry of Labour also breached a court order that the report should be given to the HCU, he told the commission. Asked by Peake why he did not make his loan payments while widows and the elderly were traipsing to pay theirs, he said: “Night and day, I am using my funds to secure the HCU.”
Whenever Peake said she had no records of what Harnarine was saying, he said when the commission’s attorneys want to malign him they find records. Asked by Peake how $3 million-plus in depositors’ money ended in foreign expenses for him, he said the auditors should have provided that answer.
She also said $265 million of depositors were dropped into a hole into subsidiaries. Harnarine said the subsidiaries were making profits. He charged there was a conspiracy between the office of the Commissioner of Co-operatives Development (COCD) and Ramlogan in terms of levies and judgements against the HCU.
Depositors complained to the COCD and the HCU was levied upon on a daily basis. “Ramlogan called me one morning and said I want all your computers and IT system. “They say I was with a goat. I go show you who was with goat,” he said. The situation after paying out depositers got totally out of hand and the HCU went into liquidation shortly after, Harnarine said.
He said the liquidator’s takeover of the HCU was violent and involved gunplay. Likening it to the July 1990 attempted overthrow of the government by the Jamaat al Muslimeen, Harnarine said there was a shootout at the back of the HCU headquarters in Chaguanas between a private security firm, backed by policemen from the Chaguanas Station, and HCU security.
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