The Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (Udecott) is seeking millions in financial compensation from its former executive director Calder Hart for decisions taken under his watch.Udecott was subject to a one-year probe by forensic investigator Bob Lindquist whose findings formed the basis of pre-action protocol letter issued to Hart by attorney Christlyn Moore, on behalf of the company, on Monday.The action was officially announced by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in her contribution to the 2012 budget debate last Monday.The pre-action protocol narrowed Lindquist's extensive subject matter into two areas: Hart's role in the award of the Brian Lara Cricket Academy (BLCA) package to Hafeez Karamath Ltd (HKL) in 2006 and his breach of "good faith by deliberately and improperly concealing from your fellow directors and the Udecott shareholders" his family connections in Sunway Construction Ltd.Hart's pre-action letter is one of a string of civil proceedings being pursued by the People's Partnership against former directors of state boards under the PNM administration.
Hart and Hafeez KaramathLtd
In its legal letter, Udecott asserts the two caps Hart wore-that of executive chairman and chairman of the tenders committee-gave him privileged access to information, in particular, the financial health of HKL.The pre-action letter further states that Hart's knowledge would have been gained from a 2002 report titled "Evaluation of Bids Submissions for the Customs and Excise Head Office: Third Report" which outlined HKL's unsatisfactory financial position resulting in a failed bid for the $97 million project."Your knowledge of HKL's financial position with respect to its bid on the Customs and Excise Building would have made you aware of its inability to manage projects in excess of $100 million," the letter said."With respect to HKL's bid, the report concluded that the financial statements of the company did not qualify it for a project of this magnitude. Secondly, the report identified that the fact that HKL which was only incorporated in 2000 would automatically disqualify the company as it would have not met the tender requirement of having to provide five years of financial statements," the letter continued.
It also contends that Hart's knowledge of HKL's financial position was enhanced by advice provided by Udecott's external counsel Debroah Peake, SC, which focused on the issue of capital erosion of HKL and its implication to the Customs and Excise bid process.Udecott contends Hart's bias toward the HKL group of companies led other tenderers to threaten legal action which resulted in a scrapping of that bid process and re-starting afresh by pre-qualifying contractors.The letter states that Hart chose to disregard the advice of the project managers Turner Alpa Ltd and project architects Design Collaborative Associates Ltd that the pre-qualification be done by them to ensure the competence of the companies bidding.The pre-qualification report of Ricardo O'Brien indicated that all other bidders except HKL had scored above the required amount."You would have been aware from the Third Report of the Evaluation Committee that HKL could provide little security to secure an award of any contract in excess of $100 million as the report had indicated that the Desalcott shares were mortgaged twice over.
Your knowledge of the financial position of HKL and the HKL group of companies was augmented by HKL's bid on the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower. From the bid documents submitted by HKL you would have been aware that the shareholders equity of HKL was merely $4.7 million. Further, the documents showed that Hafeez Karamath Group reported a shareholder deficit as at June 30, 2003, of $80.4 million. A response to a request from the Tenders Committee for HKL to provide "letters from financial institutions advising of HKL's total line of credit, current commitments and available line of credit was met with no response by HKL," the letter stated.
Udecott alleges that by the time HKL made its bid for Package 2 on the BLCA in March 2006 and its bid for Packages 2,3 and 5-8 in September 2006, Hart would have been aware of the following matters with regard to HKL:
(i) that it had minimal amounts of working capital, and negative amounts of shareholders' equity.
(ii) that the HKG was in a "gravely insolvent" financial position
(iii) that the supposed security provided by the Desalcott shareholding was illusory
(iv) that, notwithstanding its lack of assets, HKL had been pre-qualified in respect of bids of up to $100 million.
"Added to the foregoing was the fact that in June of 2006, prior to the award of Pk 2 and 2,3 and 5-8 Hafeez Karamath was arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud Desalcott. This is a matter which seems to have caused you little or no concern," the letter said.It noted that none of these matters were brought to the attention of the "board of directors which you chaired or the evaluations committee which you also chaired when HKL was awarded Pk 2 and Pk 2,3 and 5-8."This amounted to misrepresentation to the board as well as breach of your common law and statutory fiduciary duty towards the claimant (Udecott). It is incomprehensible that HKL could have been awarded Pk 2 and 2,3 and 5-8 by the claimant if the board was made aware of the fact," the letter observed.The letter observed that Hart and Udecott's board approved an advance payment of $24.9 million to HKL supported by a bond from Bankers Insurance Ltd and further approved another payment of $54.9 million, also supported by a bond for Packages 2,3,5-8.
"It is the position of the claimant that in approving both of these advanced payment you breached your duty of care to the claimant. As of now, HKL owes over $73 million on advance payments. By April 2009 the bonds were allowed to expire and the claimant has no security for these advance payment debts of HKL. A prudent director in your position would have ensured that the advanced payments made to HKL by the claimant were properly secured. This you failed to ensure," the letter stated.The letter charged that Hart "improperly or falsely claimed" that he was not a member of the tenders committee in cross-examination during the Uff Commission of Inquiry into the Construction Sector when at the time he was chairman of the said committee.Udecott is seeking a court order that Hart pay, by equitable compensation, the delay by HKL on the BLCA as well as the advanced payments approved to the sum of $73,446,905.08
Hart and Suncon...later Sunway
Udecott is also seeking payment as well as declaratory relief from the court for Hart's role which led to the construction of the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower in the sum of $369 million to Sunway Construction Ltd in April 2005.The letter alleges that: "In October 25, 2004 Suncon delivered "by hand" to you a three-inch binder of pre-qualification documents in the name of Suncon, specifically prepared in a professional manner for Udecott. There was a covering note which read: "Thank you very much for the invitation." Invitations to tender for the MLA were issued on November 10, 2004.It contended that prior to this tender process, Suncon had no connection with Trinidad but one month before the MLA tender process, in October 2004, Suncon set up a local Trinidad company, CHDC. It later changed to Sunway.The letter stated that Hart "handed" the Suncon binder to Mr Agard (Udecott's then chief executive)."It was later discovered that there were a number of important connections between Suncon's subsidiary company, CHDC, and your family.
These are as follows:-
(i) the incorporating directors of CHDC are Lee Hup Ming (Allen) and Ng Chin Pok (David), who are respectively the brother and brother-in-law of your wife.
(ii) CHDC's letterhead address, 7 The Park, Glencoe (an address repeatedly used in correspondence) was the address of Chun Sing Kwok, who was a friend of your wife.
(iii) CHDC letterhead phone number (repeatedly used) was the phone number of Chun Sing Kwok.
(iv) Particularly significant was the fact that CHDC letterhead and fax number 868-624-8239 was registered in your name, and had been installed since May 1987, at your Cascade home. There was repeated usage of that fax number in connection with the tendering process. Even the formal tender document submitted by Suncon/ CHDC on January 31, 2005 for MLA Pk 6 was on a CHDC letterhead which included the above phone number, address and fax number.
(v) Additionally, CHDC director Ng Chin Poh (your wife's brother-in-law) visited Udecott premises in October and November 2004 to pick up the tender package at Udecott, and also attended in mid-December 2004 to pick up bulletins for Pk 6."
Udecott asserts that Hart breached his duty to act in good faith as well his fiduciary duty towards the company.Further, he failed to disclose these matters to the board of directors or the tenders committee. "Indeed, Mr Agard, the then CEO, stated that he had no knowledge of any of these relationships. You sought to compound your dishonesty and improper actions in your evidence to the UFF Commission of Inquiry when you stated in your written statement of January 14, 2009: "I take this opportunity to categorically refute and condemn as false and mischievous any allegations that I have any family connections with Sunway or CHDC."Udecott contends that unless an acceptable agreement can be reached, it will commence legal proceedings.