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$Billions in Contracts for UNC Financier
An international financial investigative agency has information that a Government financier has amassed over a billion dollars in contracts over the three years that the People’s Partnership has been in power. This was revealed yesterday by forensic and fraud auditing specialist Stephon Grey.
Grey is the managing director at BDO Forensic Accounting, the world’s fifth largest network of auditing firms; a sub-contractor at Kroll UK Ltd, the world’s leading forensic and investigative group; and the director of education at the Caribbean Institute of Forensic Accounting. He is considered to be one of the leading forensic accounting consultants in the region.
Grey was at the time speaking at a forum titled A Proper Procurement Framework as a Tool for National Development, put on by Anointed Professionals Exhibiting Excellence (Apex) at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. He spoke on the topic Conducting Effective Procurement Investigations and said that any procurement legislation being considered must treat first with the issue of political party financing.
Addressing the need to conduct due diligence and background checks when considering the awarding of contracts, Grey said this was a process well followed in developed countries, but “we don’t do it in Trinidad.”
He said that this lack of due diligence had resulted in the largest contract awarded in the country over the last two years in a methanol deal, going to a non-existent company trading under the name Trinidad Development Company, and it was only when it was pointed out after the fact that such company was not registered in this country that the fact became known.
“Who is behind the company and whether or not the contracts have gone to political party financiers is something that international agencies pay attention to,” he said. Grey said he is amazed at the kind of information that foreign international agencies have about this country and other places in the Caribbean, information that was gathered through investigation.
He said while politicians may tell the public that the Corruption Perception Index is just perception, it is not so. He said “perception is just 20 per cent” and the “other 80 per cent is actually predication and preliminary investigations that are conducted.”
“Many of our public officials who feel they are quite smart look up on the internet and see these havens and they want to send their money to Lichtenstein and to Antigua,” he said, adding there is really no way to hide those transactions since “all wire transfer intermediary banks are American banks.” “So these officials are not that smart. The American agencies have every single wire transfer, from who and where and whatsoever,” he said.
He said the foreign entities currently have a lot of information on contracts and monies given to one PP financier. “One agency told us just last week that one certain political party financier has already received, in the three years from the current adminstration, over one billion in contracts.” He refused, however, to divulge the name of financier or the company or companies which had benefitted from the contracts.
Contacted yesterday about the Grey’s claim, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said, “I would be very sceptical to belive such information unless there is evidence to substantiate such a claim.”
When told the source of the information, Ramlogan said if the source were a government agency the information would be deemed more credible, since “they may possess the legal authority and power and consequentially the credibility to make such a statement. It is far too easy to make accusations and allegations without any proof,” he said
To substantiate his claim, he said he recalled a Sunday Guardian story earlier this year which claimed a government minister was under investigation by the Financial Investigation Unit (FIU) for paying off a mortgage at the rate of $42,000 a day in cash at a local bank. He said both the bank and FIU subsequently denied the allegation, but did not prevent the story from making front page “We have to be very careful,” he said, suggesting an agenda may be at play.
“Private organisations with political agendas are a feature of our politics and this is the silly season,” Ramlogan said. “It is suspicious that anyone who claims to have such information will not report it or share it with the proper and relevant law enforcement agency. “If the evidence exists it should be shared with the Financial Investigations Unit (FIU) and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). If it is shared with me I will have no difficulty in treating with it or passing it.”
Also in his presentation, Grey, speaking about “external investigations,” said law enforcement officials must have relationships with external bodies who have information to share. He said nine times out of ten, persons amassing millions in contracts and bribes do not bank their money in Trinidad and Tobago. Foreign agencies, he said, can tell local law enforcement agencies “what are the wire transfers going out and who are the political or public officials who have accounts in offshore havens.”
“The United States can tell your Police Commissioner, one phone call, and give him a list of all public officials and where they bank. But it all comes back to the political will. If the political financiers are controlling the public officials, then they don’t want to make that phone call,” he said.
Asked whether or not the information about the contracts and money transactions revealed by the foreign agency would be known by either the Financial Investigative Bureau or the FIU, he said all it would take to find out is the “political will” and a phone call to the relevant foreign agency.