Twelve days before the election, Cabinet approved the renewal of a $50 million contract for the police service to retain the services of a specialised team of private investigators and forensic accountants from the United Kingdom. Their task is to help build criminal cases against their political opponents.
According to a Cabinet note 1320, headed Ratification of approval by the Honourable Prime Minister for the engagement of English law firms to provide professional services to the TTPS, Ministry of National Security, the minister sought to approve the decision to retain the UK firm Edmonds, Marshall and McMahon Ltd, Open Text UK Ltd and PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services Ltd since April 2019 and renew the contract for another year.
Cabinet also approved the payment of a further $16.3 million in outstanding fees to the firms for work already done, which brings the total contract value to $66.3 million.
Another $50 million had already been spent to retain their services for the last 12 months, according to government sources.
Opposition sources claim that the decision of the government to pay for the services of the foreign teams without Cabinet approval since April 2019 was irregular, and said senior public servants had raised concerns about the contracts being renewed after millions of taxpayers’ dollars had already been spent.
Questions that Sunday Newsday sent to the Prime Minister on the issue were not answered.
The three firms were selected by Police Commissioner Gary Griffith in April 2019 to help police officers assigned to the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau complete their investigations into high-profile, politically sensitive cases.
These included bid-rigging and kickbacks from a $549 million road-development contract awarded by the Estate Management and Business Development Company (EMBD) on the eve of the 2015 general election under the former UNC administration; the $400 million spent during the LifeSport programme under the last administration and which has been blamed for the mushrooming of gang warfare along the East West Corridor; and the million-dollar deposits into the account of a relative of a UNC politician, among other cases.
The original contracts expired at the end of June. Last month a status report into the EMBD investigation was purposely leaked to the media which disclosed details of the investigation, including the identity of a senior member of the UNC, four private contracting firms, and other officials involved in an alleged scheme to steal close to $500 million, some of which the police claim was used to fund the UNC 2015 general election campaign.
The UK investigators advised police to execute a search warrant at the home of the UNC politician before July 17, nomination day, but on seeking the advice of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, they were told they needed more information before making such a move.
According to the Cabinet note, the hiring of the foreign experts was advised by the CoP, who said that from time to time he is provided with “secret and classified information regarding plans to undermine the rule of law, good governance and national security through criminal and corrupt activities.
“Should this information fall into the hands of the wrong individuals it could undermine the security of the country,” he said.
“Based on some of this information, the TTPS are engaged in numerous investigative cases of a high profile nature which the CoP is convinced will be better handled by a neutral competent body devoid of influence by the society.”
This was the basis for the hiring of the foreign experts to deal with sensitive matters of national security.
Commenting on the decision to retain foreign teams to assist the police, Griffith said he welcomed the opportunity to get experts to help them fast-track high-profile investigations.
This, he said, will also deflect allegations of cover-ups and assist people of interest in such cases, as they can be determined one way or another in quick time.
He pointed out this was not the first time foreign experts have been retained to assist the police in complex white-collar crimes, and referred to the forensic accountant Bob Lindquist and his team, who were brought in by a former PNM administration to assist police in the $1.6 billion Piarco Airport Development Project. That resulted in former ministers, contractors and foreign firms being charged with a host of criminal offences.
Griffith said even the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has hired a foreign adviser, Ed Jenkins, QC, to give advice on some high-profile matters, including the EMBD case, and a foreign accounting firm to help unravel allegations of a complex fraud case involving top officials of the CL Financial empire.
Griffith said the foreign specialists advise police officers on how to build their investigation, and do not direct them.
UNC Oropouche East candidate Dr Roodal Moonilal, at virtual political meeting on Friday, also brought to the fore, a July 24, 2020 matter for consideration by the Cabinet for the ratification of an approval granted by the Prime Minister one year ago to engage an English law firm to provide services to the TTPS.
Services were to be provided for the period April 2019 to June 2020. Approval was also given for the provision of services for one year from July 1, 2020.
Moonilal said what this means, “is that the PM went and took a decision by himself without the Cabinet and now he running back to the Cabinet to get approval and support for the decision he already took.”
“He wants to pay it backwards.”
“There is no reference to any other Cabinet note which means Cabinet never dealt with that,” he said showing off his copy of the Cabinet note.
“June 2020 gone. They engaged a company for $66 million and they did not have any approval. It was an illegal act to procure the services of a company without proper approval and now they come to Cabinet to cover it up.”
He said what is worse is that the money will have to come from the TTPS which does not have a budget for it.
“They are taking money from the police vote that is there to fix police stations, fix police cars, pay for goods and services for the police to pay these English people who have produced nothing.”
He advanced that the TTPS and not the Cabinet which should be procuring and recruiting a company to assist the service with complex matters.
“The Cabinet is made up of politicians. They are passing a decision to spend tax payers money to a company to prosecute their political opponents. That is wrong.”
– with reporting by Yvonne Webb