Trinidad Finance Minister owns CL Financial stock

(Trinidad Guardian) Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira has presided over the billion-dollar bail-out of the CL Financial group, even as she herself has owned shares in the conglomerate, Guardian investigations have revealed. The revelations raise questions about whether Nunez-Tesheira has a serious conflict of interest, why she has not disclosed her ownership of the CL Financial shares before and even why the shares are held in her name and not in a blind trust.

Karen Nunez-Tesheira
Karen Nunez-Tesheira

CL Financial’s official filing with the Registrar General’s office reveals that Karen Tesheira, an attorney-at-law with a Hilltop Drive, Champ Fleurs address, owned 10,410 ordinary shares in the CL Financial group. On Saturday, a man driving his vehicle out of the property, which has a magnificent view of the Caroni plains, disclosed that Nunez-Tesheira no longer lives at the address given on the return. The Finance Minister’s name is 289th on the alphabetical list of 325 shareholders. The document, dated February 17, 2009, lists CL Financial shareholders, as at September 7, 2008. It is signed by Gita Sakal, CL Financial’s corporate secretary.

Messages left on Sakal’s cellphone on Saturday, to find out whether she knew Nunez-Tesheira was a shareholder, were not returned up to press time. CL Financial has 7.5 million shares in issue and its stated share capital is TT$7.5 million. The company’s major shareholders are: Dalco Capital Management, with 1,947,833 shares; the CL Duprey Investment Trust, with 1,634,335 shares and the employee pension plan of the British American Insurance Company, which is registered in the Bahamas.

The documents also reveal that as at September 7, 2008, CL Financial’s total indebtedness in respect of all mortgages and charges, which are required to be registered with the Registrar under the Companies Act, amounted to TT$208 million and 134 million euros. Contacted for comment as she was going back into the afternoon session of a retreat convened by PNM parliamentarians and senior officials at the Salybia Nature Resort and Spa, Nunez-Tesheira confirmed that she was the owner of the shares. She said they were an inheritance from her late husband Russell Tesheira, a former national footballer and one of the top insurance salesmen of Clico, the insurance company that is at the centre of the Government’s rescue of the CL Financial group.

Asked whether she felt that owning the CL Financial shares while she presided over the break up of the group constituted a conflict of interest, Nunez-Tesheira said: “If you want to say that….” She then said she was being called back into the meeting. Nunez-Tesheira was a lecturer in civil law at the Hugh Wooding Law School, and vice principal of the school, before entering politics. She wrote two legal texts, one on ethics in the legal profession and the other on probate practice for the English-speaking Caribbean, according to the Parliament’s Web site.

Before entering politics, she also consulted in business law for companies in the energy and manufacturing sectors and consulted in probate matters.

The revelation that Nunez-Tesheira is a CL Financial shareholder will raise new questions about when she first learned about the liquidity problems at Clico and Clico Investment Bank.

The minister strenuously denied allegations made by Opposition politicians, at the emergency sittings in Parliament in early February, that her family withdrew TT$2.1 million from CIB as a result of her advanced knowledge of the group’s financial position. She said her sister signalled an intention to break their mother’s fixed deposit on December 30, 2008—well before she was formally briefed on the issue by Central Bank Governor Ewart Williams on January 14.

While Nunez-Tesheira disclosed information about the purchase of a house and a car during statements in Parliament and interviews with the media, she never disclosed the fact that she had a potential conflict of interest as a result of her inheritance of the CL Financial shares. Shareholders of companies are entitled to attend annual meetings and to receive dividends.

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