Harry’s soap opera
By Andre Bagoo Sunday, July 15 2012
click on pic to zoom in
Former HCU boss Harry Harnarine...
IF THERE is one moment you are likely to remember from the Sir Colman Inquiry, this is it: last Thursday, at a few minutes past three o’clock, Edwin Glasgow QC, called Harry Harnarine an ass.
The incident was the most heated one in a week which saw Harnarine testify before inquiry chairman, Sir Anthony Colman, over four days at the Winsure Building, Richmond Street, Port- of-Spain. Harnarine presented a defence of his disastrous tenure at the helm of the Hindu Credit Union (HCU). That defence boiled down to allegations of conspiracy and tales of nefarious political plots. For every breach put to him, Harnarine had a long, but not necessarily convincing, explanation.
Glasgow, 67, cross-examining Harnarine in the hot courtroom on the second-floor of the building (the air-conditioning unit is still malfunctioning), asked the former HCU president what PEARLS stood for. PEARLS is a standard set of financial ratios deployed to test the health of credit unions, devised by the World Council of Credit Unions (WCCU). The WCCU says the acronym stands for Protection; Effective financial structure; Asset quality; Rates of return and costs; Liquidity; and Signs of growth.
After Harnarine, 50, said he did not know what the acronym stood for, Glasgow, inquiry counsel, accused Harnarine of going on to make a totally irrelevant speech, and then insulted him.
“Then again, I understand your embarrassment to know that you’ve just made an ass of yourself,” said Glasgow.
HARNARINE: “Did I hear properly? Did you just say I made an ass of myself?”
GLASGOW: “An ass, a fool, playing around with hundreds of thousands of people’s money and not even knowing what the industry standard was.”
HARNARINE: “Chairman, I demand an apology! I am not to sit here to take insult. This is very insulting. It is not massa day. Mr Chairman I will call upon you. I respect you. But Mr Glasgow is losing his objectivity. He is losing his balance and I have tried my best to cooperate with this inquiry and answer to the best of my ability, and I will not have him saying I am making an ass of myself. I take serious objection to that!”
SIR ANTHONY: “Very well, let’s hear the next question.”
GLASGOW: “Let’s now turn to page twelve.”
HARNARINE: “Mr Chairman, again. I am saying I demand an apology. I did not disrespect Mr Glasgow. How can he tell me I am making an ass of myself?”
GLASGOW: “Mr Harnarine, can I just remind you that what you just said was you did not know what the industry standards were, and I suggested to you that that was embarrassing, and that was what you were playing around.”
HARNARINE: “No Mr Glasgow! With all due respect you also asked (earlier) what cause us to invest in the company. I think that when you ask a question I should be allowed to explain.”
GLASGOW: “I hope it was not inappropriate to suggest that it was embarrassing for you.”
HARNARINE: “No. I am saying that saying I am making an ass of myself is an insult. How could I feel comfortable in this inquiry? How can I cooperate? You feel you can do this because you are British and I am an East Indian?”
SIR ANTHONY: “The four-legged reference was yours.”
GLASGOW: “Mr Harnarine, I did say in light of the evidence you gave (and your ) embarrassment (you were) making an ass yourself. If that caused any offence I am sorry. Let it be for others to judge, when they hear your evidence.”
HARNARINE: “Is this what this inquiry is really about?”
GLASGOW: “Perhaps you didn’t hear what I said …”
Stuart Young, attorney for Ernst and Young at the inquiry, made an application to Sir Anthony to suspend the inquiry for a few minutes for things to cool. (Young, earlier in the week, had thanked Harnarine for making soap-box speeches.) After the break, Harnarine, appeared to make a volte- face. “I just want to put on record that it is only because of the amount of money the State is spending on this inquiry, I am prepared to let bygones be bygones, and I will cooperate with this inquiry,” he said, aiming for the moral high-ground. But even after the former HCU president made his assurance that bygones would be bygones, tempers flared now and then when things got hot. At one stage after the resumption of sitting, Glasgow, dissatisfied with an answer he got, told Harnarine he was not trying to trick him. “It doesn’t matter,” Harnarine retorted.
“I will expect anything from you from now on.”
Viewers of the inquiry had a similar sentiment all week, in relation to the evidence sprung upon the inquiry at the last minute by Harnarine. Harnarine alleged a political conspiracy against him.
In his testimony, he dropped all sorts of names: Attorney General Anand Ramlogan; former Minister Lenny Saith; Devant Maharaj, Sat Maharaj, former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, former Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira, current Finance Minister Larry Howai, former First Citizens bank chairman Sam Martin, former public servant Herbert Atwell, Ernst and Young partner Maria Daniel, and Justices Charmaine Pemberton, Vashiest Kokoram, Nolan Bereaux. Even Sir Anthony and Glasgow got a mention in the cross-fire when Harnarine tried to deny being linked to $17 million in Miami properties (he said only one was in his name, when the evidence is that many were held in the names of family members).
Sir Anthony warned Harnarine against taking a “scattergun” approach and pointed out that many of these people were not in a position to respond to these new allegations. What is more, some had already testified at the inquiry and the allegations were never put to them. Lawyers called the claims fanciful fiction.
If Harnarine was the victim of a political plot, then he certainly went looking for it.
“Maybe it is my karma,” he said at one point.
He admitted to plotting with politicians in what Colman described as a “Byzantine” account of one year in the country’s political history.
Fyard Hosein SC, attorney for the Ministry of Finance, noted Harnarine, in his own witness statement, swore to hatching a plot with former UNC political leader Basdeo Panday to deal with Winston Dookeran’s well-publicised challenge to Panday’s leadership around 2006.
In his statement, Harnarine says, “In 2007, Mr Panday called me to a meeting to discuss how to get Mr Dookeran back to the bargaining table. We hatched a plot together and I was given the task to implement the same.” Hosein said, “You hatched a plot, didn’t you?” Harnarine accepted that he plotted. He said the plot involved encouraging Dookeran to form a separate political party – later the COP – as a way for Panday to get rid of Dookeran. “That was the only way to get rid of him and the other people who did not support Panday,” Harnarine said.
At one point he added, “I supported the PNM too.”
Dookeran formed the COP and the PNM won the next election with the UNC vote split.
But what the inquiry heard very little of last week, was Harnarine’s response to what went wrong at the HCU. Even if political machinations were relevant to his case, Harnarine failed to present any defence of the dire and irregular practices at the HCU which saw thousands lose their money and even, in some cases, lives.
On Monday, however, the inquiry heard evidence of the State’s own failure to properly regulate the HCU and rein in Harnarine. Since 1992, the signs of problems in the credit union sector were there, but the politicians – whether through a conspiracy or incompetence – did not act.
Under cross-examination Harnarine admitted to $5.9 million in credits to his HCU account between 2000 to 2008. He confirmed the HCU bought his wife’s foreign used car for $1 million. He also confirmed that at one point he owed the HCU $3 million and, therefore, was ineligible to serve on the HCU board. At one point he denied, on oath, earning commissions on deposits, at another point he admitted to getting commissions. He could not say what happened to about $205 million pumped into illegal HCU subsidiary companies, saying a group of nameless “big depositors” backed the “investments”.
Harnarine admitted to still owning a third of an HCU company in the US to which millions of credit union money was lost and insisted that, to this very day, he remains the true heir to the throne: the true president of the Hindu Credit Union.