Former Trinidad AG arrested in legal fees kickback probe

Anand Ramlogan

(Trinidad Guardian) For­mer At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Anand Ram­lo­gan was ar­rest­ed at the Pi­ar­co air­port ear­ly yester­day, and Ger­ald Ramdeen, a UNC col­league, was tak­en in cus­tody by an­ti-cor­rup­tion po­lice who are in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions of kick­backs and mon­ey laun­der­ing linked to high le­gal fees paid dur­ing the at­tor­ney gen­er­al’s tenure.

Ram­lo­gan was de­tained at the Pi­ar­co In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port around 4:15 a.m. short­ly be­fore he was ex­pect­ed to board a flight to the British Vir­gin Is­lands, where he was sched­uled to ap­pear in court.

For­mer UNC sen­a­tor Ger­ald Ramdeen turned him­self in­to of­fi­cers at­tached to the An­ti-Cor­rup­tion In­ves­ti­ga­tion Bu­reau (ACIB) in Port of Spain.

For the last few years, in­ves­ti­ga­tors have been look­ing in­to hefty sums of mon­ey paid out by the AG’s of­fice to a “favoured few,” ac­cord­ing to se­nior gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Stu­art Young. Un­der Ram­lo­gan’s tenure, more than $1 bil­lion was paid to a hand­ful of peo­ple in the le­gal pro­fes­sion. That fig­ure bal­looned from about $40 mil­lion dur­ing the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Both Ram­lo­gan and Ramdeen have pre­vi­ous­ly de­nied any wrong­do­ing.

Ram­lo­gan had sued then Op­po­si­tion Leader Kei­th Row­ley in 2012 af­ter he ques­tioned him about the mas­sive pay­ments by the at­tor­ney gen­er­al’s of­fice. Ram­lo­gan lat­er dropped the law­suit.

The ar­rests of Ram­lo­gan and Ramdeen are the first ac­tion in­to sev­en ac­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­volv­ing le­gal fees ap­proved by Ram­lo­gan. Ramdeen, a for­mer UNC sen­a­tor re­ceived a sub­stan­tial por­tion of those fees.

Yester­day’s ar­rests were di­rect­ly linked to a state­ment giv­en by a British Queen’s Coun­sel who re­ceived sev­er­al high pro­file cas­es dur­ing Ram­lo­gan’s tenure.

“Shock­waves will be go­ing through the le­gal fra­ter­ni­ty all now,” said a se­nior of­fi­cial close to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Re­act­ing to the ar­rests, the UNC said it was not privy to the de­tails of the al­le­ga­tions.

“We have no doubt that this des­per­ate and fail­ing Row­ley ad­min­is­tra­tion is search­ing for a way to dis­tract the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion away from their record of fail­ure over the last four years,” the UNC said in a state­ment. “The Row­ley ad­min­is­tra­tion is char­ac­terised by in­com­pe­tence, cor­rup­tion, mas­sive un­em­ploy­ment and run­away crime.”

Guardian Me­dia was told that a team of of­fi­cers searched Ram­lo­gan’s home in Palmiste near San Fer­nan­do while he was be­ing de­tained at the air­port.

An air­port in­sid­er told Guardian Me­dia that Ram­lo­gan was ap­proached by one of­fi­cer at­tached to the Traf­fic In­dex, which is the akin to Spe­cial Branch Po­lice, and two of­fi­cers at­tached to the ACIB. Ram­lo­gan com­plied with of­fi­cers and was not hand­cuffed.

At 7 a.m Ramdeen turned him­self in to ACIB and is cur­rent­ly be­ing ques­tioned.

Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Gary Grif­fith would not say what the men were be­ing ques­tioned about.

“Can­not give fur­ther de­tails at this time but ACIB spear­head­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Grif­fith said.

Ram­lo­gan was due to trav­el to the British Vir­gin Is­lands (BVI) for a ju­di­cial re­view mat­ter in which he was rep­re­sent­ing the BVI Speak­er of the House of As­sem­bly, Ju­lian Wilcox.

Nei­ther At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Faris Al-Rawi nor Min­is­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Stu­art Young re­spond­ed to ques­tions about the mat­ter.

Ram­lo­gan is al­ready be­fore the court charged with mis­be­hav­iour in pub­lic of­fice and per­vert­ing the course of jus­tice in re­la­tion to an al­le­ga­tion that he at­tempt­ed to get David West, the Di­rec­tor of t he Po­lice Com­plaints Au­thor­i­ty to with­draw a state­ment in a defama­tion law­suit filed by Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley against the for­mer at­tor­ney gen­er­al.

Back in 2016, Row­ley hint­ed that Ramdeen was un­der crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports at that time, At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Faris Al-Rawi said Ramdeen and at­tor­ney Wayne Sturge amassed a bill of State briefs from the AG’s of­fice, amount­ing to more than $26 mil­li­on and $10 mil­li­on, re­spec­tive­ly. Those briefs were grant­ed at the time that Ram­lo­gan sat as At­tor­ney Gen­er­al.

Al-Rawi said then while he could not give a time frame as to when the au­dit would be com­plet­ed he said it pri­mar­i­ly fo­cused on the “val­ue for mon­ey “prin­ci­ple re­gard­ing the hir­ing of State at­tor­neys.

Sturge, ac­cord­ing to re­ports this morn­ing, is rep­re­sent­ing Ramdeen while he is be­ing ques­tioned by ACIB of­fi­cers.

UNC leader Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar said she could not com­ment with any au­thor­i­ty on the ar­rests. She not­ed that when al­le­ga­tions were made against Ram­lo­gan, she asked him to step aside in ear­ly 2015 “so that the gov­ern­ment could func­tion.”

“I sub­scribe to the rule of law,” she said. “I do not con­done wrong­do­ing. I can­not be judge, ju­ry and pros­e­cu­tor in any mat­ter.”

Per­sad-Bisses­sar said she had tak­en sim­i­lar against for­mer Min­is­ter Jack Warn­er when al­le­ga­tions of fi­nan­cial im­pro­pri­ety were made against him.

“That is my modus operan­di,” she said.

Asked if the ar­rests yesterday rep­re­sent­ed an in­dict­ment of her gov­ern­ment, Per­sad-Bisses­sar said: “Not at all. I al­ways re­mem­ber some­thing that my for­mer leader told me. He said Je­sus Christ had 12 dis­ci­ples and in the end of the day al­most all of them be­trayed him.”

She said the Row­ley gov­ern­ment had failed to take sim­i­lar ac­tion and had not re­vealed key de­tails of a PNM min­is­ter ac­cused of wrong­do­ing.

Per­sad-Bisses­sar said the coun­try was cur­rent­ly racked by crime in­volv­ing “or­phaned chil­dren tot­ing guns,” ram­pant wa­ter short­ages and oth­er se­ri­ous mat­ters.

She ac­cused the PNM of try­ing to dis­tract the na­tion from its own short­com­ings.

“It’s elec­tion sea­son guys,” Per­sad-Bisses­sar said.

“En­joy it.”

Re­porters gath­ered at the Port of Spain Mag­is­trates Court, an­tic­i­pat­ing a court ap­pear­ance by the state’s co­op­er­at­ing wit­ness. When the court closed its doors for the day the day, no one had ap­peared. Court work­ers said they were not asked to stay open to fa­cil­i­tate a lat­er ap­pear­ance.

Guardian Me­dia un­der­stands that the State has re­tained Queen’s Coun­sel Ed­ward Jenk­ins from Eng­land to pros­e­cute the case. Jenk­ins was sworn in­to the lo­cal bar yester­day.

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