Karen denies secret meeting with Harry
By ANDRE BAGOO Saturday, July 14 2012
FORMER Finance Minister in the then PNM government, Karen Nunez-Tesheira, will return to the Colman Inquiry in September to give further evidence in relation to the failure of the Hindu Credit Union (HCU) and also to deny claims made this week by former HCU president Harry Harnarine.
Newsday understands Nunez-Tesheira has volunteered a witness statement to the inquiry in which she denies holding any secret, informal meeting with Harnarine in 2008 when he was on the verge of courting the state for a bailout of the ill-fated credit union.
The former finance minister had in March, been expected to testify at the HCU portion of the inquiry this week. However, she was subsequently not announced as a witness when the schedule for the eighth evidence hearing, which ended yesterday, was unveiled.
But inquiry chairman Sir Anthony Colman yesterday confirmed Nunez-Tesheira would testify at an additional three-day phase of the inquiry on the HCU in September. Sir Anthony said he has seen it fit to add the additional phase to the proceedings in light of further evidence received this week, including Nunez-Tesheira’s statement.
“Until this evidence hearing, it had been my intention to complete the HCU portion of this inquiry by the end of today,” Sir Anthony said. “However, upon reconsideration of the evidence and the further evidence that has come forward over the last few days....I’ve decided to allot more time to hearing further evidence as it relates to the HCU.”
The ninth evidence hearing will run from September 19 to September 21. The addition of another phase pushes the Clico portion of the inquiry to October.
It is understood Nunez-Tesheira is to testify alongside other witnesses including: Madan Ramnarine and Chanka Seetaram, two former HCU auditors, as well as Robert Nandlal, who has been identified as the head of a group of HCU shareholders and depositors. This week, Harnarine told the inquiry he held informal meetings with Nunez-Tesheira in a private, political capacity, in addition to later formal meetings documented by the Ministry of Finance.
Additionally, he claimed Nunez-Tesheira pledged a $71 million loan to the HCU. Lawyers for the Ministry of Finance produced correspondence in which the claim was flatly denied by public servants. Former public servants who testified at the inquiry also denied any knowledge of Harnarine’s claims.
In a draft witness statement, Nunez-Tesheira corroborates accounts given by the Ministry of Finance this week of formal meetings held between herself in her former capacity as a minister and Harnarine. She does not admit to attending further meetings outside those recorded by the ministry.
In her draft statement, the former Finance Minister also denies Harnarine’s claim of Ernst and Young making a presentation to the Cabinet on July 19, 2008, on the status of assets at the HCU. Instead, she says the firm made a presentation to the State on July 9, 2008, and not on July 19, 2008, as claimed by Harnarine. The difference in dates is crucial given some of Harnarine’s claims, most of which have not been put to witnesses who testified earlier at the inquiry.
Harnarine, in alleging a political conspiracy against the HCU, said Ernst and Young were hand- picked by Nunez-Tesheira and the PNM Cabinet to run an inquiry.
Ernst and Young, as well as the Ministry of Finance and the office of the Commissioner for Cooperative Development (CCD) have denied this claim noting the firm was hired to do a statutory inquiry by the CCD after a tender process conducted by the Ministry of Labour. Harnarine had claimed after he approached the State for financial assistance for the HCU, Nunez-Tesheira called him on the night of July 18, 2008, and told him he was “on his own”.
The next day, Harnarine claimed, he was accidentally invited to a meeting at Ministry of Finance where, he claims, Ernst and Young was making a presentation. However Ernst and Young has said it made a presentation on July 9, 2008, pursuant to a request for information from the Ministry of Finance in light of Harnarine’s own request for the State to purchase HCU assets to prevent its collapse.
Furthermore, public servants from the Ministry of Finance this week told the inquiry Nunez- Tesheira dropped the idea of purchasing assets of the HCU when it emerged that the assets being offered were encumbered and that Harnarine was being “less than forthright.”
Newsday also understands the inquiry has moved to issue an invitation to former Minister in the Ministry of Finance Conrad Enill to attend the inquiry. However, Enill yesterday told Newsday there is no need for him to give evidence.
“That portfolio was presented to somebody else in 2007,” he said. “I don’t see why I would be approached. The people who have testified are the appropriate officers to address questions to.”
Harnarine has called on the inquiry to examine Enill’s role in a supposed run on the HCU after Enill made public comments about the HCU. The remarks, at the time in 2006, triggered protests at Balisier House, headquarters of the PNM.
While political issues have emerged at the proceedings thus far, in relation to both the current and past administration, Colman yesterday made clear that it is not his intention to examine the political aspects of certain parts of the evidence before him.
In relation to Harnarine’s call for an examination of the present Government’s HCU bailout plan, Colman said, “the position is that given the terms of reference I am concerned with an investigation into why what happened did happen and what recommendations should be made to prevent that happening again and to point the finger at suspected guilt. I am not concerned with policy. That is something within the political arena and not part of my investigative function at all.”