Maritime attorney Nyree Alfonso was interrogated by attorneys for the Port Authority of T&T for almost six hours yesterday, as she testified in her defence in a lawsuit over her alleged role in the controversial procurement of the MV Superfast Galicia.
Alfonso took the witness stand before Justice Joan Charles as the virtual trial of the authority’s lawsuit against her, Intercontinental Shipping Limited (ISL) and its managing director John Powell continued on Thursday.
The lawsuit centers around the fact that between December 2013 and July 2014, Alfonso was retained by the authority to help procure a new vessel for the Inter-Island Ferry Service.
The lawsuit alleges that Alfonso breached her fiduciary duty as an attorney for the authority, as she was allegedly associated with the company and assisted in its successful tender in exchange for financial gain.
Through the lawsuit, the Government is seeking to recoup the profits which it claims Alfonso, Powell and the company made on the three-year lease, which totalled $143 million.
While being cross-examined by the authority’s lawyer Dr Claude Denbow, Alfonso maintained her claim that the authority had mistakenly sent a tender package to her office and that she pointed out the error to the authority’s officials.
Alfonso claimed that she sought to transfer the package to the ISL, which represented the interests of the owners of the vessel that was deemed by the authority to be suitable for the lease.
“It was not my tender,” she said.
Confronted with a letter in which she allegedly appointed ISL as her agent to effect the purported transfer of the package, Alfonso admitted that she made an error in taking this course of action.
“It was an error. All I intended to do was assign the tender documents to ISL. It was not the right way to approach it but what I intended and what I wrote were not the same thing,” Alfonso said.
She described what transpired as unfortunate, as she claimed that the error was due to the fact that she was consumed by her work at First Citizens Bank, where she served as the non-executive chairman of at the time.
Asked whether ISL could have qualified for the lease under the terms of the tender, Alfonso said yes, as she maintained that ISL did not need to be the owner of the vessel to participate in the tender process.
While the case was at a preliminary stage, the authority applied for a summary judgment against the defendants as it claimed that the case was indefensible.
Justice Charles disagreed, as she said that the case would have to go to trial for her to properly determine the issues.
“I would have to determine whether Alfonso owed a fiduciary duty to the Port Authority and whether she was in breach of that duty as well as whether Intercontinental Shipping and Powell could incur liability for breach of fiduciary duty in relation to anything which Alfonso did relative to this tender,” Justice Charles said.
The lawsuit against Alfonso, Powell and the company was filed shortly after the Superfast Galicia contract was cancelled in April 2017.
The decision led to daily delays in the ferry service before the Government eventually purchased the Galleons Passage and two new Australian ferries–the APT James and the Buccoo Reef–to service the seabridge.
The Port Authority was also represented by Donna Denbow and Shiva Maraj while the defendants were represented by Sophia Chote, SC, Shiv Sharma and Jonathan Walker.