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‘Dishonest’ PATT must pay car dealer $8.5m
The Port Authority of T&T (PATT) has been ordered to pay $8.5 million in compensation to a Claxton Bay foreign-used car dealer for unfairly impounding 185 vehicles since 2015 due to unpaid demurrage fees.
Delivering an oral judgement in the San Fernando High Court on Friday, Justice Kevin Ramcharan ruled that the PATT acted illegally when it rescinded an agreement to waive the fees for A&M Marketing Limited. In addition to ordering PATT to pay damages, Ramcharan ordered that the vehicles be released within 28 days.
The dispute between the parties arose after the vehicles were imported into Trinidad from Japan between March and September 2014. The company imported the vehicles without import licences, as the Ministry of Trade and Industry has stopped issuing licences due to a separate lawsuit with the T&T Automotive Dealers’ Association over its plans to introduce a new policy for the importation of fully assembled right-hand drive foreign-used cars.
The association’s claim was eventually dismissed, with the ministry retroactively granting the company the licences in December 2014. The company then entered into negotiations with the PATT over the $6.6 million in storage rental fees it owed for the period the ministry’s lawsuit was being determined.
In September 2015, PATT came to a written settlement with the company, in which it agreed to waive the fees. However, within a week PATT informed the company it had changed its mind and would auction the vehicles to recoup the money. The company sued, claiming the PATT had unilaterally rescinded the agreement.
In his judgement, Ramcharan criticised the PATT for “attempting to mislead the court” by failing to disclose it had made the settlement offer to the company.
While under cross-examination during the trial, Ricardo Gonzales, PATT Divisional Manager, admitted a partial waiver had in fact been granted to A&M but the decision was revoked on instruction of former CEO and general manager Charmaine Lewis. The reason for the change in position was due to a lack of clarity over the ministry’s acceptance of responsibility for the delay in granting the licences.
Lewis was fired by the PATT’s board in October due to controversy surrounding the procurement of two vessels to operate on the inter-island sea bridge. She had since indicated her intention to sue for wrongful dismissal.
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