(Trinidad Express) “Check sly fox for monies.”
“My detail will collect this afternoon. Will probably need a crocus bag.”
These are among the text messages purportedly sent from the cellphone of a Government Minister to the cellphone of a director of a State company who is also an assistant manager for the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) in central Trinidad.
The company is a State-owned enterprise mandated by Government to improve the infrastructure of communities throughout the country.
The Sunday Express has confirmed that the phone from which the messages were sent belongs to the government minister.
However, the minister said he recently lost his phone.
When contacted late last week, the minister admitted that he lost his phone on October 3.
“Yes, that is correct, I lost my phone, but it was on (October 3) and not (September 30),” he said.
The Sunday Express then quoted several text messages sent to the URP assistant manager from the phone registered to the minister during the period he had his phone.
He said: “I don’t know anything about those texts. I know I lost my phone and I’m having difficulties with the phone I now have. I find it strange you asking me these questions. I thought you were trying to help me get my phone back.”
Asked to explain the messages and whether the monies to be collected were kick-backs for contracts, the minister said the questions being posed to him “have no merit” and he was shocked at the line of questioning.
“Where did you get the info about my phone. As I understand, the Interception of Communications Act is in effect,” he said.
Asked to explain the specific dates and times which were mentioned in the texts relating to drop-offs and pick-ups of money, the minister said: “That is completely wrong. I don’t know anything about that. I don’t text message the (URP manager). I usually call him. You are asking me about text messages on my private cell and that’s frightening.”
Asked to explain the source of the monies and whether the monies to be collected were kick-backs, the minister said: “The question is loaded with bias, of course I do not engage in that. We run our constituency with fund raisers, if we have people who contribute or if I do ask someone to contribute, I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
Sources told the Sunday Express that upon realising his cellphone was missing on October 3, the minister contacted his security detail—a Special Reserve Police and former police officer —and asked them to locate it.
The matter was not reported to the police.
The detail went to two bars located in Chin Chin, Cunupia and asked the proprietors to view the surveillance tapes.
The phone was not recovered.
Sources told the Sunday Express the tendering process for several projects including road paving and drainage was rigged, with selected contractors knowing exactly the amount to bid.
Contracts ranging from $1 million to $5 million have already been granted, with several of the contractors knowing exactly the budget the State was looking at.
Sources further pointed out that when the contracts have been granted and depending on the amount the contract is worth, kick-backs range from $130,000 to $3 million or more.
“All these transactions are made cash,” the source said.
In fact, just last month $145,000 was placed in a large brown envelope and collected on behalf of (name called), the source said.
Pointing to a contractor who resides in Freeport, the source said on several occasions during the months of March, June and September more than $3 million in cash was paid.
Sources alleged that the monies were collected by the URP assistant manager but when questioned last week, he told the Sunday Express it was the first time he was hearing such allegations.
“I do not know anything about that,” he said.
Price Plaza, Mid Centre Mall and Couva were also listed as the meeting points for exchanges to take place, sources said.
Asked whether on March 10 a text message which read (“Collected PBA) was sent from his phone in response to a message from the minister’s cell phone about collecting monies from a contractor, the URP manager said, “I don’t know anything about that.”
He claimed that the cellphone loaned to him by the State company went missing sometime this year.
Questioned on the allegation that he collected money in a vehicle owned and driven by him, the URP assistant manager said this was inaccurate.
“I have no idea what you are speaking about,” he said.
The text messages
The messages were sent to the URP assistant manager during the period January 2011-present.
One message was recorded as far back as November 10, 2010. The last message received was on September 30, 2013, at 10.15 p.m. and read: “The monies you collected I need it for 2morrow.”
Some text exchanges stored on the Government Minister’s cellphone:
September 30, 2013
Sent to the URP assistant manager’s cell number at 10.15 p.m: The monies you collected I need it for 2morrow.
March 10, 2013
Sent to the minister’s cell number from the URP assistant manager’s cell: Collected. PBA
June 14, 2013
Sent to the minister’s cell from the URP assistant manager’s cell: PBA collected from Roopnarine
March 7, 2012
Sent to the minister’s cell from the assistant manager’s cell: Gave info to Roop on project.
January 19, 2012
Sent to the URP assistant manager’s cell from the minister’s cell: My detail will collect this afternoon. Will probably need a crocus bag.
November 10, 2010
Sent to the URP assistant manager’s cell number from the minister’s cell: Check sly fox for monies.