Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi told Parliament on Wednesday that 12 attorneys “alone consumed” $290 million of expenses during the previous 2010-2015 period.
“And there’s an ongoing matter that’s being investigated and there are further investigations and matters to come. I wouldn’t want to disturb what the Police Service is engaged in,” Al-Rawi said, declining details.
On Monday, former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and former UNC senator Gerald Ramdeen appeared in court on three criminal charges relating to claims that they benefited from a legal fees kickback scheme.
Al-Rawi also revealed that the special prosecution unit being advised by the Director of Public Prosecutions—is probing white-collar crime—is “very close to treating with Clico in its final form.”
In 2016, the DPP was given the report of the Colman Commission of Enquiry into the 2009 Clico and Hindu Credit Union collapse. In recent months, Al-Rawi’s repeatedly hinted the matter is close to conclusion. He gave the information during yesterday’s Parliament Standing Finance Committee deliberations to approve a total of $1.8 billion to provide supplementary funding for 16 Ministries and the T&T Police Service. This is to operate their divisions including paying for supplies and contracts. This additional funding increases the 2019 Budget from $51 bn to $52.8 bn.
The AG’s Ministry received $50m. Al-Rawi said this was needed for general administration, specifically for legal fees and to settle outstanding arrears. His explanation on this clarified Government’s claims that $1.4 bn to $1.6 bn was spent over the last administration’s 2010/15 term on legal fees. Al-Rawi explained that as at September 2015 the Ministry had spent $444.4m, being a sub-total of approximately $1.4 billion in a “whole-of-Government” expenditure. He said this was largely conducted by the AG’s office.
“The $1.4bn was spent by the government up to September 2015 across all ministries and statutory authorities. The Attorney General’s office conducted the vast majority of those expenses for example with Petrotrin, Udecott, Eteck, TTEC...”
“The then Attorney General took conduct of matters—actually in breach of the law—and had the mind and management of the AG’s office and directed the expense. So the whole-of-government expenditure was $1.4 bn and the AG’s office itself spent $444m. Out of that $1.4 bn, (PNM’s) incoming government was left with arrears of $137.1 m in the AG’s office,” he said.
The gross figure for the whole-of-government expenses eventually rose to approximately $1.6 bn. Al-Rawi added: “We did a value-for- money audit on expenditure for legal fees and discovered very serious matters (on expenditure) that were possibly fraudulent and we’ve referred those matters to the police. And there are other matters that are in there as well.”
He said those “other matters” will come depending on what action the DPP takes.
“The Police Service is in an exercise for further action,” After the audit, he said the Ministry is now compelled to begin settling bona fide fees as opposed to those which are under investigation or those which have been set aside. He did not give details due to the active criminal investigation. There is a four-year limitation period on legal fees.
Al-Rawi said the $50m will go towards fees for the DPP’s office—including forensic evidence issues—and the vast majority will be for areas where the State has been sued, where there is taxation by the courts or settlement by accounting exercises.