POLICE WERE moving to arrest deputy leader of the United National Congress Dr Roodal Moonilal on the eve of nomination day, July 17.
Investigations into fraud and corruption claims linked to half a billion dollars’ worth of contracts awarded by the Estate Management and Business Development Company had reached a sensitive stage.
Sunday Newsday was reliably informed that senior members of the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau were advised to arrest Moonilal and other suspects by a UK-based firm hired by the police to help unravel the complex white-collar investigation.
The police team was also said to have been advised by a team of legal officers in the police service to go ahead and bring in the suspects. But sources familiar with the case said some investigators and legal officers had concerns that there was insufficient evidence to make such a move or persuade a magistrate to grant the warrants.
The investigative team consulted in mid-July with Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC, and he told them further investigations were needed.
On Friday, the updated police file was submitted to the Office of the DPP after investigators met with the DPP yet again.
Sunday Newsday has learned that police may still move to arrest suspects even as the DPP is reviewing the file, as some legal advisers have suggested his approval was not necessary.
Last Sunday, a confidential status report compiled by the UK firm of Edmonds Marshall McMahon was leaked to both the Guardian and Express newspapers detailing key aspects of the investigation. The senior opposition politicians were not identified in the media reports, which said arrests were imminent.
The firm, which was founded in 2012 by Tamlyn Edmonds, Andrew Marshall and Kate McMahon, describes itself on its website as “the first and only specialist private prosecution law firm in the UK.”
It was picked by the police commissioner when he came into office in August 2018 to help in key investigations such as LifeSport and EMBD, among other politically charged probes.
So far, taxpayers have expended just under $50 million in legal fees to the firm. Its contract is up for renewal.
A list of questions sent to McMahon on the firm’s recommendations has not yet been answered.
On July 19, leader of the ruling People’s National Movement Dr Rowley read excerpts of one newspaper report on a campaign platform at Signal Hill Secondary School in Tobago, and warned potential voters that only a PNM government would ensure that investigations into these and other serious fraud offences would continue.
The following day, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith said he intended to close the EMBD investigation, among other high-profile cases, “one way or the other.”
Commenting on the developments, Moonilal, in a phone interview, said he was “aware that the police was under political pressure from very high-ranking officers in the government to embark on a witch hunt with a particular deadline, (but in) which they have not been able to satisfy the requirements of the political directorate, because the TT police officers – I can say many of them, the majority – are men and women of integrity, and men and women who take their professional conduct seriously.”
Moonilal claimed the officers “were under extreme pressure from an English team” to charge somebody.
He said the Opposition had raised the issue of payment to the UK firm in Parliament on May 25, 2018. Hansard confirms that Moonilal asked the questions and the AG provided a written answer. Moonilal said Al-Rawi refused to disclose the information on the grounds that the matter was sub judice and already before the courts, and also that revealing the details would undermine investigations.
“Releasing information on how much money that is paid by the taxpayer cannot undermine the strength of your case. It is either you have a case or you don’t have a case,” Moonilal said.
“They have nothing to show, so they prepared a status report and planted it in the newspaper as a way to claim that if they have some more time, they can bring charges.
“They are really on this wild-goose chase and they have nothing substantial, so this is why they cannot go to a magistrate.
“I have picked up information that even the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is not satisfied with what they have and he cannot recommend action against anyone.
“But the political directorate from the very top in this country has been pressing, because they want to use this as a political issue,” Moonilal claimed.
He said if anyone comes forward to give a statement on oath that politicians tried to influence their decision to charge him, he will make a report to the police so that an investigation can be launched into attempts to pervert the course of justice, since the police service was an independent organisation.
Asked to comment on the latest claims about the report, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said, “I am not a member of the TTPS nor am I a member of the DPP’s office, and I cannot speak to what they are engaged in as it relates to this matter, because that is beyond my purview.
“I can speak to the civil litigation which the AG’s Office has taken and from which certain evidence was secured, under Norwich Pharmacal and other discovery orders, and which evidence has been passed to the TTPS for their work, and obviously that is the product of their work, so there was a deep amount of work on the civil realm. And had it not been for that, there would not have been anything for the police to act upon.
“But I am specifically outside of and nowhere near the police work, nor as Attorney General should I be (involved in it).”
Griffith did not respond directly on the difference in opinion between some ACIB investigators and the UK firm, but told the Sunday Newsday, “At no time did the DPP give any pre-emptive strike to make any comment to state that somebody is about to be charged and he is waiting on the police.
“The DPP’s office does not operate in that manner. That gives an impression that it is a fait accompli, and it can give the impression that the police and the DPP have already decided what we intend to do while the evidence is still being accumulated by the police to forward to the DPP.”
The CoP said the contract to retain the UK firm “will be renewed once financing which has been requested is approved.”
Details of the value and scope of the contract were not released apart from the fact that the firm was assisting with the fraud cases involving the EMBD and LifeSport, among others.
“All funding for the TTPS comes from the government,” Griffith said in a text response to queries about the renewal of the contract.
About the case
The State alleges that six weeks before the 2015 general election, a fraudulent scheme was hatched which involved the Cabinet of the UNC administration, officials at the state-run EMBD and a group of business operators, among others.
According to a summary of the allegations, Cabinet approved the development of ten road projects on Caroni (1975) Ltd lands at a staggering cost of $549 million.
The State alleges that an official of the EMBD, who had a close relationship with a senior UNC politician, rigged the bidding process for the projects and companies associated with the politician, were selected to do the work.
Investigators claim that inflated and false claims were made for payment amounting to over half a billion dollars and paid out by September 4, 2015, just three days before the election.
The State alleges part of those proceeds were used as kickbacks to help fund the election campaign of the UNC and into the pockets of politicians.
The Ministry of Finance had approved $100 million on September 1, 2015. Additional funding came from financing made available by state-owned bank First Citizens: $400 million on September 3, 2015.
Some of the companies which were contracted by the EMBD have filed legal action against the State seeking outstanding payment for work they claim they did.
There are related civil lawsuits before the High Court which seek to strike out the Attorney General’s claim of fraud.