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Govt made no error

Published: 
Thursday, April 19, 2018
AG Al-Rawi debunks HDC case failure

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has rejected suggestions that the Government’s corruption lawsuit against former Housing Development Corporation (HDC) officials, two State officials and two private companies over a $175 million land deal has collapsed.

Speaking at a press conference at his Port-of-Spain office yesterday, Al-Rawi criticised one newspaper for inaccurate reporting on a procedural issue in the case by High Court judge Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell.

In her decision on Tuesday, Donaldson-Honeywell reversed her decision to grant the Government two extensions in which to serve the case on the defendants, after it was initially filed under a seal of secrecy in November 2016. While her change in position meant the case against eight out of 10 defendants, who challenged the extensions, was struck out, she advised that it should be refiled.

Yesterday, Al-Rawi was careful to note that Donaldson-Honeywell’s decision was not based on an analysis of the merits of the case, which are to be determined when it is eventually refiled.

“There was no determination of the facts and the judge said specifically that you were allowed to refile the documents. I want to make it abundantly clear that the Government made no error. There was no failure on the part of the Office of the Attorney General at all,” Al-Rawi said.

He said the Government could have appealed the decision, but instead chose to follow her advice to refile.

“We could have appealed the judgment but most respectfully, we would be wasting time and costs,” he said.

He claimed the Government took the decision to file the case while the investigation into the allegations was ongoing as it would have exceeded the four-year statutory period for civil claims. He admitted that only after the case was filed, the Court of Appeal delivered a landmark ruling in a corruption case filed by the previous government, in which it ruled that the limitation period could be waived in cases where corruption is found after a change in regime.

“If we had filed late there would be an argument that the statutory period had ended and we cannot take action to protect the money that taxpayers sent to the HDC and was used for the purchase of the land,” he said.

Al-Rawi also rejected claims by former HDC managing director Jearlean John, a defendant in the lawsuit, who sought to question the strength of the case after Donaldson-Honeywell’s decision.

“The UNC has a history of claiming victory. Jearlean John is no ordinary citizen, she is the deputy political leader of the Opposition party,” he said.

Asked what were the costs associated with the investigation which led to the case being filed, Al-Rawi said: “It is by far less than $175 million.”

Questioned over the legal costs the State was ordered to pay for losing the procedural application, he denied it was in excess of $5 million as claimed in some media reports.

“The costs are not astronomical. It is a matter of small money. It is certainly not $5 million. That is outlandish and outrageous,” he said.

When asked whether he had made a report over the issue to the Integrity Commission in 2013, Al-Rawi refused to say yes or no, as he said Minister in the Office of the AG Stuart Young was managing the case.

The HDC officials were eventually cleared at the end of the commission’s probe.

“It is not the first time in T&T that the IC has embarked on a course of action that this government, whether in power or in opposition, does not agree with,” Al-Rawi said.

ABOUT THE CASE

The lawsuit centres around that HDC’s purchase 20 hectares of land at Calcutta Settlement Road No 2 in Freeport, known as Eden Gardens, in 2012.

While the private company valued the land at $52 million, the Commissioner of Valuations later said this was “grossly undervalued” as his office estimated the value at $180 million.

In the lawsuit, the Government is alleging the group was part of a conspiracy to bribe State officials to overvalue the land and benefit from the proceeds.

The defendants are former HDC officials Jearlean John (managing director), Henckle Lall (chairman), Graig Davis (deputy chairman), former Commissioner of Valuations Ronald Heeralal and his co-worker Everil Ross.

Project manager Peter Forde and his company Project Specialist Limited were also listed as defendants, along with Point Lisas Park Limited and its owners Anthony Sampath and Patrick Soo Ting, who sold the land to the HDC.

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