TWO-TIME Olympic cyclist Njisane Phillip has denied he misappropriated property belonging to the TT Cycling Federation (TTCF) with the intention to permanently deprive the local cycling fraternity of its assets.
The 29-year-old also rebuffed claims made by the cycling federation which said he acted in bad faith and with disregard for the benefit of other national cyclists by taking into his possession five Mavic wheels (two rear disk, two front disk and an iO five-spoke), valued at US$15,600 (TT$112,200).
On October 13, Phillip, through his attorneys Kristy Mohan and Jagdeo Singh, of Fortis Chambers, responded to the TTCF’s claims made in a pre-action protocol letter issued to the cyclist, on September 18.
The letter was sent by the federation’s legal team of Adriana Marine, Keith Scotland and Asha Watkins-Montserin of Virtus Chambers. It requested “the immediate return of the five Mavic wheels in the condition in which they were taken, that is, as new.”
If Phillip is unable to do so, he was instructed to repay the US$15,600 to the TTCF and the fraternity’s legal fees which then amounted to TT$7,500.
TTCF sent Phillip this correspondence eight months after he took, on December 23, 2019, the equipment from the National Cycling Centre office of then technical director for cycling, Erin Hartwell.
According to previous reports, Hartwell told Phillip not to remove the wheels and reminded him the equipment belonged to the TTCF and was procured for use by national athletes through the Sport and Cultural Fund grant.
Phillip, however, went ahead and took the wheels. The next day, the cyclist sent a letter to TTCF explaining his actions and said that he planned to use the wheels to continue to train.
He also indicated that the TT cycling team had previously been using his wheels, his personal property, for training and competition over the past two years, all of which were eventually destroyed.
Mohan’s response to TTCF’s lawyers read, “Fifteen Mavic wheels were purchased by the team manager, including one set of three for our client. In addition to the wheels, items including but not limited to, professional cycling socks, helmets and visors, bike boxes and toolboxes were purchased for each cyclists’ sole and exclusive use.
“Our client instructs that implied into the constitution and/or the contractual framework of this membership with the TTCF, it is the understanding and/or term that as a professional athlete, all equipment purchased for his professional (training and competition) use, could be retained by him for the said purpose of continuing professional use.”
Phillip’s attorney added that the TTCF had no basis to accuse the cyclist of taking the wheels “as his own property.” She also denied the wheels were “new” since they were previously used during his UCI World Cup campaign in late 2019.
“The TTCF’s disparaging accusations serve to attack the character of our client, who, at all material times, acted in good faith and in reliance on the understanding creating by the TTCF’s past conduct and practices, that so long as he remained a riding member of the TTCF, and was engaged in competitive cycling, all equipment purchased for him…was for his sole and exclusive use and not intended to be retained by the TTCF,” stated Mohan.
Additionally, Phillip’s attorney also highlighted that the cyclist relied on a course of conduct and practice with the TTCF that once he continued to be a riding member of the TTCF, the equipment purchased was for his sole and exclusive use.
Mohan also pointed out that Phillip did not “loan or temporarily permitted” fellow cyclist Keron Bramble to take possession of two of the five wheels. Bramble remains in possession of these two wheels, and like Phillip, issued a letter to TTCF on December 24, 2019, assuring he would be using the wheels for “training purposes.”
The letter continued, “The said correspondence of Mr Bramble serves as evidence of compensation owed by the TTCF to our client for damages done to his personal property, being three Mavic wheels which he loaned to the TTCF in good faith, and in the interests of the development of his fellow riding members of the TTCF.
“In the circumstances, we have our client’s firm instruction to counterclaim against you for the sum of TT$32,306.11 being the cost of three Mavic wheels previously loaned by our client to the TTCF, should the TTCF proceed to initiate any action for recovery.”
A copy of the correspondence from the supplier and a receipt evidencing the cost of the three Mavic wheels, to Phillip’s stepfather Phillip Whiteman, dated May 30, 2016, was also attached as evidence.
TTCF’s pre-action protocol letter was issued by trustees Joseph Roberts and Joseph Browne. However, Mohan questioned the legitimacy of their positions stating that, “as far as he (Phillip) is aware, there have been no elections of trustees in accordance with Article 19.1 of the Constitution of the TTCF”.
“In these circumstances, we hereby expressly call upon you (TTCF) to provide us (i) the appointment documents to establish the bona fides of the trustees and (ii) the necessary minutes and/or resolutions by which the trustees were duly authorised by the council of the federation to cause this pre-action protocol letter to be issued against our client, failing which our client could only presume that the trustees acted without proper authority,” Mohan added.
Phillip’s attorney also stated that the cycling fraternity’s actions have caused distress and public embarrassment and threaten to ruin not only the national public perception of his character, but also his reputation in the wider pro cycling community.
According to her, the federation’s damaging and untruthful allegations are likely to threaten Phillip’s future opportunities to partner with corporate entities and have the potential to cause “greater irreparable damage to his pro career both locally and internationally”.
It concluded, “Should this matter proceed to High Court, we have our client’s firm instructions to seek to recover compensation from the TTCF for damage to his personal property, damage to his professional reputation and for distress and embarrassment caused by the TTCF’s actions and allegations.”
In an interview with Scotland on October 21, he revealed his team is intent on achieving a peaceful resolution to this matter. He also confirmed receipt of Mohan’s correspondence.
“We must do what we have to do but we don’t want to be involved in any embroil. We would try, at the first instance, because the federation wants to act in the overall interest of the sport. If we can avoid the matter escalating we will do our best to do so whilst acting in the interest of our client.
“We are being cautious and we don’t want to act in any other manner than an even-handed and sober manner. That is why we are taking our time. We will review the reply by the attorneys-at-law,” said Scotland.