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State granted leave to pursue lawsuit against THA
The State was yesterday granted leave to pursue its judicial-review lawsuit against the Tobago House Assembly (THA) over the controversial contract for the construction of the Milshirv administrative complex in Tobago. The leave was granted less than a week after the lawsuit was filed in the Port-of-Spain High Court Registry and almost a week before the highly-contested THA election, which is scheduled for Monday.
During a hearing in the Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday, Justice James Aboud, who has been assigned to hear the case, granted state attorneys leave to continue their claim. Leave is required to prevent claims that may be frivolous and without merit from being heard. Aboud also ordered that Milshirv Properties Ltd, the company at the centre of the deal, should be added to the lawsuit as an interested party.
He adjourned the matter to February 15, when attorneys representing all the parties are expected to decide a timetable for the case, and for the filing of submissions. In the review claim filed by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan last week in the Port-of-Spain High Court, the State is seeking declarations that the decision to enter into the build-own-lease-transfer (Bolt) arrangement with Rahael Holding Ltd for the construction and financing of an administrative complex was illegal.
The lawsuit also claims the deal was contrary to the THA Act and the Central Tenders Board Act. The State is also asking for the decision made by the Orville London-led THA to be quashed and that the deed of lease between the THA and Milshirv Properties to be set aside as well as the deed of licence and deed of mortgage between special-purpose company, Milshirv Properties and First Citizens.
The deal is reported worth approximately $320 million. The decision was reportedly taken by the THA on April 13, 2011. The administrative building is intended to accommodate the Division of Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment of the THA.
The State’s lawsuit came days after a group of UK investors also moved to recover some US$30 (TT$200 million) they invested in a proposed hotel resort development on the island, after the THA allegedly reneged on a deal to sell them the Culloden Estate in northwest Tobago and approve licences to complete the project. The State’s legal team includes Senior Counsel Alvin Fitzpatrick and attorneys Lesley Lucky-Samaroo and Martin George.
On November 15, 2011, the THA purchased three acres of land at the corner of Shirvan and Milford Roads for $12 million from Dankett Ltd. Six days later, the THA leased the same three-acre property for 199 years at an annual rent of $10 to Milshirv, a mere two months after the company was incorporated.
In October last year, the Prime Minister demanded that London answer why, after 20 years and millions of dollars spent, the THA had chosen to give the Milshirv property back to its directors. She also questioned why the office lease agreement incorporated into the lease agreement with Milshirv was not immediately registered. She said she found it highly suspicious and irregular.
The PM also accused London of engaging in a “sweetheart deal” which was nurtured by Milshirv Properties Ltd and Dankett Ltd. Persad-Bissessar said according to the lease document, Milshirv would construct an office building and facilities which it would then rent to the THA for 20 years at $1.3 million a month.
What the AG is asking for:
The claim for judicial review included declarations that:
• the decision is illegal, void and of no effect and in breach of the Central Tenders Board Act Chapter 71:91
• all decisions and/or action taken consequent on the decision are ultra vires, illegal, null and void and of no effect
• a deed of licence dated August 27, 2012, and made between the THA, Milshirv and First Citizens Bank Limited is null, void and of no effect
• an order that a deed of lease dated August 27, 2011, between the THA and Milshirv be set aside.
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