JULIEN, EX-BOARD FACE COURT BATTLE
By AZARD ALI Sunday, September 16 2012
A corruption probe initiated by the Office of the Attorney General has led to the filing of a lawsuit in which the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is seeking to recover over $11.4 million from former University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) president, Professor Ken Julien, and others.
UTT started the legal action against its former president and six other ex-directors on Friday, seeking to recover money it claimed the university lost due to Julien and his ex-directors’ alleged involvement in accommodating Rev Juliana Pena, a spiritual adviser to former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, at UTT’s guest house in Aripo. The lawsuit was filed by attorneys acting for UTT, Gerald Ramdeen and Varun Debideen, in the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain.
According to court documents, the Aripo Guest House was, in 2006, leased by UTT to house visiting professors and certain academic staff. UTT is contending that Julien failed to carry out his fiduciary duty to terminate the lease of the guest house property, when it was discovered that the Aripo lands on the Northern Range were first leased by the State to a company called Consolidated Services Limited (CSL). The CSL-State lease had long expired, yet UTT went on to lease the Aripo property from CSL which housed Pena, and her companion, to the tune of millions of dollars, the lawsuit contends.
Apart from Julien, the lawsuit named former directors Dr Rene Montiel, Giselle Marfleet, Scott Hilton-Clarke, Ravindra Nath-Maharaj, Errol Pilgrim and Lincoln Warner as defendants.
Pena shot into the public limelight in 2010 when she and Manning became the centre of a controversy over funding of a $30 million church at the Heights of Guanapo. Pena was to be the presiding minister of the church, but it was never completed after work was suddenly stopped by the Chinese contractors. Julien, Monteil and others are now being sought for the “wrongful letting” to Pena of the Aripo Guest House and for her being charged UTT’s staff rates at the guest house. Pena’s stay included three meals per day.
The lawsuit stated that in 1969, CSL leased the 150 acres of landscape on the foothills of the Northern Range from the State for 25 years. The lease between CSL and the State was for $900 per year but it expired in 1994, rendering CSL without a legal title.
However, according to the lawsuit, the acquisition of the Aripo Guest House via a “lease” was approved by the then Julien-led board for five years at $7.4 million for a period of five years. The lease was executed on February 1, 2006, by Bruce Procope on behalf of CSL and the executive committee of UTT.
The lawsuit went on to state that it was UTT’s legal adviser, Celeste Mohammed, who discovered the illegal transaction, and sent to Monteil a search of the title from the Registrar General Office, which showed that CSL had no title to the lands and the Aripo Guest House. In fact, Mohammed stated though CSL’s lease had not been renewed, it proceeded to sign a lease with UTT, and continued to pay rent to the State for the lands at TT$908.55 per year.
The lawsuit stated that Mohammed submitted her findings to the UTT board on November 14, 2006, but they failed to terminate the lease. UTT began to pay TT$50,000 per month rental for the Aripo Guest House. Again on April, 2007, Mohammed, sent a note to the UTT board instructing it to terminate the lease with CSL. No action was taken, the lawsuit stated.
“The Aripo Guest House was unoccupied from October 21, 2006, to December, 12, 2007, and from November 1, 2008, to January, 2011, but UTT nevertheless continued to pay CSL TT$50,000 per month rental and incurred operating expenses, maintenance and staff, when the directors knew, or ought to have known that the lease, purportedly acquired under the sub-lease, was defective,” UTT stated in its lawsuit.
The UTT lawsuit said the first defendant (Julien), from December 13, 2007, to October 31, 2008, caused Rev Pena and her companion, to be accommodated at the Aripo Guest House. UTT said it is unaware of any board resolution approving UTT rates for Pena and her companion as a personal guest of board members.
The lawsuit said Pena was never an employee of UTT, nor did her companion provide any services to the university.
On March 2008, Julien sent a copy of the rates that should be charged to Pena and her companion to the UTT management. It was accompanied with a note: “Include all inclusive, accommodation and three meals.” The note, the lawsuit stated, bore the signature of Julien as having approved and signed. Some 11 invoices were generated during Pena’s stay at the guest house, and the lawsuit claims Julien remitted the invoices to UTT and they were paid off in cash or by bankers’ drafts.
UTT is seeking damages on the grounds that the directors ought to have known the sub-lease which CSL entered into with the university, was known to them as one that did not exist. The defendants are accused of permitting UTT to incur expenditure which it ought not to have.
Against Julien, UTT is also claiming damages of $126,393.00 for what it described as breach of duty to act honestly and in good faith by permitting Pena and her companion to reside at Aripo and for breaching his fiduciary duty as UTT president by giving instructions to UTT staff to charge Pena staff rates at the guest house.
The lawsuit is expected to be served on the directors tomorrow.