Cops probing T&T President’s housing allowance

(Trinidad Guardian) A police investigation has begun into the housing allowance paid to President Anthony Carmona. However, this is not yet a criminal investigation, acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams explained on Saturday. The investigation into the matter is currently being handled by the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau, Williams said.

The investigation comes in response to four letters sent by attorney Justin Phelps on behalf of his client Rhoda Bharath to the Commissioner of Police calling for the housing allowance paid to Carmona to be probed.

Bharath’s call for the police to investigate the housing allowance came as a result of legal advice she obtained from British Queen’s Counsel Cathryn McGahey which stated that a “proper and independent” police investigation must be conducted to “reveal the true picture” about the payment.

On March 18, 2013, Carmona assumed office as this country’s president.

It was revealed that Carmona received a tax-free housing allowance of $28,000 a month from July 2013 to May 2015 despite also being provided with state accommodation at Flagstaff Hill. The monthly allowance amounted to some $644,000.

As a result of this, McGahey was asked to advise Bharath on whether a request to the Commissioner of Police for an investigation into misconduct in public office on the part of the President, his secretary Esther Daniel-Liverpool, and Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) Stephanie Lewis was justified.

In her advice, McGahey stated that “the case is finely balanced but I believe that there are the moment reasonable grounds to suspect that the offence of misconduct in public office has been committed.

“It is possible that further investigations will reveal correspondence to indicate that those involved in seeking or providing the allowance did not truly believe the President to be entitled to it, or were reckless as to whether he was. Equally, those investigations may show that everyone involved acted in good faith, whether or not the allowance was in fact payable on the true construction of the Salaries Review Commission Report. A proper and independent investigation should reveal the true picture,” she stated.

On January 1, the Sunday Guardian reported that the SRC distanced itself from Carmona’s housing allowance.

No word from President’s House

The Sunday Guardian called and sent text messages to communications manager at the President’s House Theron Boodan to get a comment on the situation. Up to late yesterday, no response was received.

NO CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION HAS BEEN LAUNCHED—WILLIAMS

Contacted yesterday, Williams explained that the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau has made a “preliminary assessment” of the matter and has since written the Chief Personnel Officer.

“I have not yet seen anything related to the Justin Phelps submission on behalf of Rhoda Bharath. However, I have been able to verify that it was received at the office of the Commissioner and the administrative sergeant would have forwarded it to the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau,” Williams said.

“A criminal investigation has not been launched into that matter. However, the Anti-Corruption Investigation Bureau by making a preliminary assessment of what has been sent has written the Office of the Chief Personnel Officer so that they can verify some information from the CPO,” he said.

“On the face of that matter, having just spoken to the Senior Superintendent Anti-Corruption Bureau, on the face of it a question of whether the CPO exercised authority which is vested in her or she went beyond her authority, and if she went beyond her authority it still is not a criminal investigation. It then becomes a matter for the Public Service Commission because it will involve issues around the discipline of a public officer, so that is for the Public Service Commission to consider,” he said.

“The only time that this becomes relevant for the police to consider is if it involves criminality and on the face of it, at this point in time based on the advice I have received from the Senior Superintendent of the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau, is that nothing has been so advanced of any criminality,” Williams said.

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