AG: 12 attorneys ‘consumed’ $290m

Thursday, May 9, 2019 - 04:00

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.

- by Gail Alexander