Seven Trinidad lawyers under probe in legal fees scandal

Anand Ramlogan

(Trinidad Express) Seven attorneys have been named as subjects of an investigation in what could involve dozens of transactions in legal matters where payments were made by the State during Anand Ramlogan’s tenure as attorney general.

This according to official sources, who said the named attorneys were involved in a number of different briefs and intersected with many other attorneys.

The probe extends into the payment of all legal fees, totalling about $1.4 billion, during Ramlogan’s tenure.

Informed sources said under the alleged scheme, certain attorneys were “taxed” liberally, with a proportion of substantial sums paid as legal fees being diverted to a particular official.

The scheme was “cross-jurisdictional”, involving the United States, United Kingdom and Trinidad and Tobago.

A specialist unit in the T&T Police Service (TTPS), incorporating local and foreign expertise and including forensic auditors, experts in serious fraud and expert lawyers, has been working in T&T since September 2018 to consolidate the evidence required to support prosecution.

Some of the foreign persons were ex-policemen and investigators from the UK’s serious fraud office, a department which investigates and prosecutes serious and complex fraud and corruption.

They were incorporated into the TTPS as SRPs (special reserve police officers).

Queen’s Counsel Vincent Nelson’s guilty plea last week was the first ever entered under the new plea bargaining arrangements created under the Plea Bargain Amendment Bill, which was piloted by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi last year.

He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit misbehaviour in public office and conspiracy to commit an act of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

These offences are also specified offences under the unexplained wealth legislation, the Miscellaneous Provision Act, also recently passed, and feed into the Income Amendment Bill and the amendment to the Proceeds of Crime Act.

They are also linked to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Global Forum arrangements.

Early outrage over fees

Concern and questions over the quantum of legal fees paid to attorneys was a consistent preoccupation throughout the tenure of the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration and Anand Ramlogan’s occupation of the Office of Attorney General.

It was very early in his tenure as opposition leader that Dr Keith Rowley raised what he saw as an “eat ah food” frenzy in the expenditure on and distribution of legal fees and briefs.

Contributing to his first budget debate as opposition leader on September 14, 2010, Rowley noted that then attorney general Ramlogan had appointed an “A-Team…where A stands for Anand” to conduct investigations in UTT (University of Trinidad and Tobago), Petrotrin, eTecK (Evolving Tecknologies and Enterprise Development Company Ltd), Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago, T&TEC (Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission), Scarborough Hospital and the fast ferry, all activities associated with the previous People’s National Movement (PNM) government.

The team included UK QCs Allan Newman and Vincent Nelson; Gerald Ramdeen; British firms Alix Partners Ltd and AFA Law (whose principal is Akbar Ali), Lindquist Forensic Accounting, and Ernst and Young.

“We are advised that the members of this team are all very close friends and associates of the attorney general; five of which are lawyers…one big, happy legal family, brothers-in-law,” Rowley said.

Speaking in the Supplemental Appropriation Bill in the House of Representatives on June 1, 2011, Rowley said: “I just want to flag that we are noting a growth in this pool of funds that is meant to pay lawyers to conduct this thing called ‘forensic legal audit’, and even as we are making these payments, we are not hearing about any deliverables—tens of millions being paid, including to two British QCs….

“I am talking to the allocation of the Ministry of the Attorney General to do something which is described as a legal or a forensic legal audit. I would like to see the terms of reference for these forensic legal audits because in the absence of proper terms of reference, and payments to high-priced, high-class lawyers, we may very well be feeding people from the Treasury and receiving precious little in return.

“Because this government that is so garrulous and quick to ‘buss mark’, they have this serious legal team investigating all these enterprises and they are very silent on the outcome,” Rowley thundered.

On November 9, 2011, in response to questions from Rowley in the Parliament on the expenditure on legal fees, the attorneys or legal team hired for what assignment and the nature of the output, Ramlogan said out of $45.5 million paid out in legal fees between June 2010 and August, 2011, $30.7 million was to “clean up what (the debt) they (the Manning government) left behind”.

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