ATTORNEY General Faris Al-Rawi said he is not surprised at attempts by certain people to derail ongoing investigations into serious several corruption matters, under the guise of transparency. Al-Rawi made this comment at a virtual news conference on Tuesday as he rejected claims from UNC MP Saddam Hosein and made by the Trinidad Express that he was not being transparency about legal fees paid to local and foreign attorneys under the PNM between 2015 to now.
"I can say specifically that there is a great amount of interest people asking of the Attorney General what appears to be innocuous questions but which can have disastrous consequences." Al-Rawi said he has received advice from both the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Fyard Hosein SC, lead attorney for his office on certain matters, about premature disclosure
He said, "Premature disclosure of these sensitive matters, will certainly cause collapse of prosecution, not only in this jurisdiction but in other jurisdictions." Al-Rawi said. Referring to questions posed by Hosein during Monday's virtual meeting of the Standing Finance Committee of the House of Representatives on legal fees paid to attorneys and details of their respective cases, Al-Rawi said Hosein has some of that information through a freedom of information (FOI) request from attorney Samantha Singh-Poona, who was one of Hosein's election agents in last August's general election.
He said Express editor-in-chief Omatie Lyder received the same information through a seperate FOI request. "Both were provided with an ongoing list of attorneys at law and entities retained by the Office of the AG. That list also includes a breakdown of a year by year expenditure."
Al-Rawi found it disengenuous for Hosein to be making the allegations he had, when he knows they are baseless. "We have not provided certain information and we will not yet be able to provide certain information in respect of certain sensitive matters."
He also said the FOI responses provided to Hosein and Lyder were designed in such a way "that an assiduous inquirer ought not to understand what is being said." Without doing into specifics, Al-Rawi referred to some of the sensitive matters in question.
He said one was a very large scale international investigation that involves cross-jurisdictional bribery claims, here in Trinidad and Tobago. "That matter is at a very advanced stage of prosecution in an non-commonwealth country. I am embargoed from disclosing the particulars around those investigations and also from revealing invoices etc which will detail the steps taken in court and also the persons who are conducting investigations."
A second matter involved civil proceedings into the Piarco Airport scandal. Al-Rawi said that matter began in 2004 in the United States but was "put to bed in the period 2010 to 2015 where no work was conducted on the matter." He said there was a US$105 claim in that matter under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). "Refined damages now stand to the tune of in excess of US$43 million.
After saying the DPP has an indictment to file in this matter, Al-Rawi said, "We have been waiting and requesting that for approximately two years now. Once that step is taken, we will be able to bring this information into the public domain, including the legal fees."
A third matter, Al-Rawi continued, involved fraud and misbehaviour in public office. "That matter is a live matter before the courts." He cited a fourth matter which involved an investigation into the collapse of Clico and its parent conglomerate Cl Financial.
He said one of the objectives of his office is "ensuring that prosecutions are brought, not sabotaged."
Al-Rawi said, "As the public officer holding that office, I am also required to underwrite or pay for investigative work, leading to prosecutions." Against this background, he said, "Therefore it is not a mystery, that many people who have serious issues to answer in the courts, would want to continue to press for premature disclosure under the guise of transparency requests."
Al-Rawi said, " I give the commitment in the discharge of my office that I hold at the pleasure of the Prime Minister, that I will obviously ensure there is full transparency."
While he was at times frustrated about the length of time some of these matters have been lingering, Al-Rawi gave the assurance that full transparency would be provided once the blessings are given from the participants, which include foreign governments and law enforcement agencies
In response to Al-Rawi's statements, Hosein confirmed that Poona Singh sent a FOI request to Al-Raw. "Ge said Al-Rawi, "failed to provide the details which we called upon him to provide yesterday at the Standing Finance Committee which he has a duty to so do."