Hindu Credit Union Directors `spent big’ while members’ cheques bounced

(Trinidad Express) On one hand members of the Hindu Credit Union (HCU) were unable to retrieve their funds and on the other, the board of directors was approving “very big expenditures”.

This “dichotomy” was revealed as Queen’s Counsel Edwin Glasgow yesterday cross-examined former secretary to the HCU board, Gainlal Ramnath, at the Commission of Enquiry into the collapse of CL Financial and the HCU at the Winsure Building in Port of Spain.

The enquiry heard yesterday that on October 28, 2004 the HCU board of directors approved the expenditure of TT$375,000 for the “refurbishment of a pool and the establishment of a gym” at one of its facilities.

During that meeting the board also approved loans totalling TT$26.3 million to several of their “unlawful” subsidiaries.

Nineteen days later, on November 16, 2004, the HCU sent a letter to the Commissioner for Co-operative Development explaining why TT$750,000 worth of cheques written to their members had bounced.

One week after the letter to the Commissioner outlining the reasons behind the number of bounced cheques being issued to members, the HCU purchased a house from the brother of president Harry Harnarine at a cost of US$100,000.

And while cheques provided to members were bouncing, the HCU arranged with Scotiabank Trinidad and Tobago Ltd to provide “millions of dollars of cash at a time”.

Scotiabank, which was subpoenaed by the enquiry, yesterday produced copies of five cheques totalling TT$4.7 million which was provided in cash to the HCU.

A banker’s cheque was produced by the Intercommercial Bank Ltd, where the HCU held its accounts, and an arrangement was made for Scotiabank to have the cheques cashed.

The money was collected by a representative from the HCU.

Ramnath said the cash was withdrawn to facilitate the HCU’s 17 branches and when divided among them, the multi-million dollar sums were “really not a significant sum in the scheme of things”.

Ramnath said he understood how the transactions could not “seem legitimate on the face of it”.

Sir Anthony Colman, the lone commissioner in the enquiry, yesterday described this “dichotomy” as “pretty startling”.

Glasgow questioned whether the HCU board understood their role or if they were just under the hand of a “financial wizard”—Harnarine.

Ramnath said while it would be “discourteous” to label the HCU board as a “bunch of incompetents” he admitted Harnarine had “some level of control and autonomy” and that the board “relied on him”.

Glasgow said the board outgrew their own uses and were unable to control the large sum of money they found themselves in control of.

It was also revealed yesterday that Ramnath bought a 52-inch flat screen television from the HCU warehouse to furnish his home.

Ramnath described it as a “big old television”.

 

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