Former executive chairman of the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) Calder Hart has been ordered to return to T&T as the legal battle to recover more than $65 million heats up. Delivering the ruling yesterday, Justice Andre des Vignes also ordered Hart to pay Udecott’s costs in the sum of $16,800. The application before Des Vignes sought an extension of time for Hart to file his defence to a pre-action protocol letter dated October 17, 2011. Hart’s defence was due since July 18. He was served with the proceedings on June 20 and to date has not filed a defence to the claim by Udecott. His attorneys claimed Hart was unable to file a proper defence until he had been provided with all the documents relating to contracts for the Brian Lara Cricket Academy and the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower. The claim against Hart is in relation to these two projects totalling $65,680,978.88.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan filed the civil lawsuit against him in the Port-of-Spain High Court on May 1. Hart, who is represented by attorneys Dr Lloyd Barnett, Stewart Young and Keith Scotland, instructed by Anna Belle Boynes-Sooklal, was not present when the matter was called yesterday. Appearing on behalf of Udecott were Gerald Ramdeen, Leslie Ann Lucky Samaroo, instructed by Christlyn Moore and Kerry Ann Oliverie. Telling the court Hart was absent because he was resident out of the jurisdiction, Des Vignes instructed that Hart would be required to attend the hearings at the case-management stage of the proceedings. The next hearing is scheduled for December 4. Rejecting the request for more time, Des Vignes said Hart did not have any good reason why he should not file his defence.
The pre-action protocol letter which cited Hart as the defendant was dated October 17, 2011. Hart’s attorneys responded by asking for copies of 48 specific documents in Udecott’s possession. During a press conference on May 1, Ramlogan said Hart had failed to respond to the letter by the stipulated deadline, leaving Udecott and the State no choice but to file the claim in court. Responding to yesterday’s ruling, he said, “We have spent a lot of time to comply with the pre-action protocol procedures and Mr Hart was supposed to file his defence. “I am very happy the court did not grant a long extension of time but in fact ordered him to do so promptly.” Ramlogan said the matter was of great public importance. “I have personally spent a lot of time with the legal team that is conducting this case and the state is anxious that it should proceed,” he said.
Asked if Hart’s being made to return to the country could be counted as a victory for the Government, Ramlogan said: “I am disappointed Mr Hart did not attend court today (yesterday) but I am heartened by the fact that the court has ordered his attendance on the next occasion as the rules of court require both parties to a case to present themselves before the court. No exceptions should be made for Mr Hart because no one is above the law.”
Informed of the court’s ruling, former deputy chairman of the Congress of the People Vernon de Lima said, “I am happy to hear the matter has started.” The COP had obtained documents from Malaysia that purportedly showed a family relationship between Hart and two directors of the Sunway company to which Udecott had awarded a $368 million contract to build the Legal Affairs Towers.