A STARTLING admission that the prosecution’s key witness, implicated in a massive corruption and fraud scheme involving State funds, is safer outside of TT, was raised in court by the lead attorney for Jamaican-born British Queen’s Counsel Vincent Nelson as he sought to secure bail for his client.
Nelson, who is part of a sprawling anti-corruption investigation spanning the entire tenure of the United National Congress-led People’s Partnership administration, has agreed to a plea deal in exchange for his testimony against former attorney general Anand Ramlogan and current UNC senator Gerald Ramdeen.
The admission of Nelson’s safety was made by his attorney, British Queen’s Counsel Tom Allen when Nelson appeared in the Port of Spain Magistrates’ Court yesterday on three charges that between the period October 1, 2010, to September 9, 2015 – two days after the PP exited office following general elections that year – he conspired with Ramlogan and Ramdeen to financially reward Ramlogan for cases in which Nelson represented the State. The complex police investigation which spanned two years, looked into a series of financial transactions involving close to $1 billion in legal fees being paid to attorneys for State briefs.
Nelson was put on $100,000 cash bail. No conditions were imposed by the magistrate which means he is free to leave the country until he is needed by the prosecution which could be as early as later this month.
Ramlogan and Ramdeen were arrested on Wednesday by the Anti-Corruption Investigative Bureau (ACIB) and were expected to be interviewed yesterday. Their homes and offices were searched by police on Wednesday night and boxes of documents retrieved.
DPP INVOKES NEW ACT
Newsday understands that bank records have been obtained by the police and investigators are also focusing their attention on close to a dozen other attorneys, both local and foreign, who allegedly received millions in fees.
Nelson, of 405 Lighterman Point, London, arrived in TT on Monday and up to minutes before his appearance before Chief Magistrate Maria Busby Earle-Caddle, was at the ACIB offices on Independence Square, Port of Spain, with his attorneys.
He was brought to the St Vincent Street courthouse just before 11 am and was driven into the basement reserved for magistrates.
Nelson is also represented by local attorney Keith Scotland, while Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC, made a personal appearance.
After the three indictable charges were read to a sombre-looking Nelson, who sat in the prisoners’ dock in the Eight Court, Gaspard said the prosecution was invoking provisions of the newly-proclaimed Criminal Procedure (Plea Discussion and Plea Agreement) Act to have the matter transferred to the High Court where Nelson will plead guilty at a plea agreement hearing.
This means a preliminary inquiry will not take place in the magistrates’ court as is the practice, and the terms of the plea bargain agreement he has made with the prosecution will take effect after he enters his guilty plea.
Gaspard said the prosecution has complied with all requirements under the Act to facilitate transfer of the matter to the High Court, including filing of statements, the draft indictment on the committal proceedings and the plea agreement. He also said Nelson has voluntarily agreed to the terms of the agreement and wants to plead guilty to the charges against him.
After hearing submissions on the transfer of the case, Earle-Caddle granted the application and said all the documents filed in the matter will be sent to the High Court in 14 days.
There were no objections to bail – although the chief magistrate did raise a concern of the investigations done on the bank account for which the cash deposit for bail will be made in light of the charges – and Gaspard admitted that no investigation had been done, but he was certain that arrangements had been put in place by Nelson for a certain sum of money to be deposited into an account to stand as security for bail.
Nelson’s attorney had earlier asked that no condition be imposed which will prevent his client from leaving the country.
He said as part of the plea agreement, the prosecution agreed there will be no objection to bail and pointed out that the purpose of bail was to ensure an accused person appear in court for the hearing of the matter.
Allen said there was no issue with Nelson returning since he has done so numerous times since 2017 when he agreed to give statements to police which incriminated himself, despite the risk to his personal safety and his medical circumstances.
He said he has engaged in an “unprecedented level” of cooperation with the prosecution and would be safer out of the jurisdiction.
“He would be safer abroad. There is a serious risk to him remaining in this jurisdiction,” Allen said, pointing out that Nelson was a key prosecution witness and there was no public interest other than to allow him the freedom to leave and return when needed.
He also said Nelson, though in remission for prostate cancer, needed access to his doctors to treat with his health concerns. After the sitting, Nelson, who wore a dark grey suit with a white shirt and no necktie, was escorted out of the courtroom through the corridor used for prisoners, under heavy guard. Earlier, he entered the courtroom the same way. He was then taken to sign the necessary documents to access bail. Nelson was retained for a number of cases by the previous administration during Ramlogan’s tenure as attorney general.
Police said that a lawyer working for the then PP administration, is said to have received $20 million for briefs in a number of proceedings including the Petrotrin/Malcolm Jones matter, cases involving UTT, UDeCOTT, Las Alturas, Eteck, Clico, Ministry of Finance and the Board of Inland Revenue. According to several legal notices when he was admitted to practice in TT, Nelson was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2001, and was admitted to practice at the Bar of England and Wales in November 1980.