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Stumbling block in Calder Hart case: Key file lost
The Urban Development Corporation of T&T’s (Udecott) inability to locate documents critical to its multi-million dollar lawsuit against its former executive chairman Calder Hart and three of its former executives, may potentially weaken its chances of successfully proving its alleged negligence in the management of a controversial mega-project.
The issue arose when the claim seeking to recover almost $65 million for its alleged breach of fiduciary duties in relation to the still incomplete Brian Lara Cricket Academy (BLCA), came up for hearing before Justice Andre des Vignes in the Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday.
Attorneys representing Udecott, Hart and the former executives — former chief operating officer Neelanda Rampaul, former vice-chairman Dr Krishna Bahadoorsingh and executive manager, Business and Financial Operations, Ricardo O’Brien — were initially scheduled to come together at yesterday’s hearing to decide on a trial date for the case.
But when the matter was called, attorneys for the former executives indicated their counterparts representing Udecott had failed to comply with deadlines for disclosing key evidence in the claim, set by Des Vignes and the Appeal Court during previous hearings in December and earlier this year. The attorneys indicated that without the documents, including a special report into the operations of Udecott in managing the projects, it would be difficult for them to plan their clients’ defences.
“I can’t prepare a case in a vacuum,” Bahadoorsingh’s attorney Colin Kangaloo said. Despite Des Vignes’s suggestion that they proceed with their submissions in preparation for the pending trial while awaiting the results of Udecott’s ongoing search for the documents, the attorneys held firm to their position that they could not continue until the issue was dealt with. In the lawsuit, Udecott alleges that the executives breached their duty to exercise skill, care and diligence in the management of the BLCA project.
Since it was filed in May 2012, the lawsuit has been hit with several delays, caused by two ammendments to the initial claim, as well as several procedural applications for both parties.
Conceived in 1999, the stadium, part of the Tarouba Sporting Complex, was expected to be completed in time to host matches for the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup at the cost of $500 million. A combination of multiple delays, cost overruns and increases in the price of building materials led the final cost of the project skyrocketing to almost twice its original estimate. The money Udecott is seeking to recover, $65,680,978.88, represents the balance of the advance payments made to contractor Hafeez Karamath Ltd for the project.
In response, Udecott’s lawyer Lesley Ann Lucky-Samaroo indicated she and her team had already done extensive searches of their client’s records and were only able to disclose the documents they were able to locate. She also denied her client’s inability to find the documents was a deliberate ploy in the case. Des Vignes did not seem to be satisfied with their efforts.
“We accept your best intentions but they have not searched everywhere. Therefore, there are still a few places that can be searched,” he said. During a hearing of the case in December last year, Des Vignes gave Udecott instructions on what documents should be disclosed and a timeline for doing so, while warning that sanctions would be applied for non-compliance with his order.
After lengthy discussions on the issue yesterday, the executives’ attorneys agreed to file submissions on the possible legal sanctions for Udecott, which they initially said may include striking out segments of the corporation’s case where the missing documents were referenced.
At the end of the hearing, the attorneys for the executives asked if their clients needed to be present at the next hearing of the case - a requirement under the Civil Proceedings Rules 1998 -, which Des Vignes chose to dispense with when attorneys agreed that the clients’ presence was not necessary until the trial began. Lucky-Samaroo chose not oppose the application for the waiver. The case will be next heard on September 17.
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