PNM Tobago Council leader Ancil Dennis has slammed Chief Secretary Farley Augustine for being "disingenuous" after the latter accused him of being "friends" with the owners of the zipline company, OCT ENTERPRISES LTD, responsible for the failed $2.5 million project in the Main Ridge.
At a press conference on Friday, Augustine and John Jeremie, SC, the THA's lead attorney in the lawsuit against the zipline company, said a meticulous initial search was done, using a reputable firm in the British Virgin Islands, where the company was said to be based.
Last week Augustine told the media the zipline company does not exist. However, on Wednesday Dennis provided proof that this was not true.
Augustine condemned the previous PNM-led THA for getting into business with a company without its certificate of incorporation being recorded by the THA, or ID records for the principals of the company.
He said this left his administration a difficult task as it continues the lawsuit Dennis initiated last November.
Augustine said on May 11 the assembly began searching in the BVI for the company, but its lawyers were unable to get in touch with either the company or its principals.
“We looked for OCT Canopy Tour, we looked for OCT Enterprises Ltd, OCT Enterprises Ltd – a BVI corporation, we looked for The Original Canopy Tours, we looked for OCT Enterprises Corporation, we looked for OCT Enterprises Corporation BVI.
"The only similarity was the name Original Virgin Canopy Tour Ltd – that is what we were getting in May – and we continued to search. Notice how long we took to go to court.”
The THA has received two freezing orders against the directors of the zipline company – one in TT and another in the British Virgin Islands.
“A court both in Trinidad and Tobago and in the British Virgin Islands would not agree to put freezes on bank accounts associated with these names and principals associated with these names, if the court was not satisfied that the company could not be reached and that the company was in fact trying to ghost us.”
He said he has e-mails from the THA Division of Tourism which show that for more than a year, the principals involved with the company had stopped responding to the Division of Tourism.
“They responded to the Division of Tourism up to February last year, and they gave some flimsy excuse that they were somewhere in the bush in Costa Rica and cannot be reached. And since then, they stopped responding to the Division of Tourism.”
He said what he found peculiar was that while the attorneys in the BVI couldn’t find the company and the company’s registration, “after accounts were frozen by the court, all of a sudden, we see that the company has surfaced, and more than that, we see that their friends in Tobago have surfaced with their company documents – seemingly trying to defend them.”
He said the issue is much larger for him than finding the company.
“You know what’s the issue for me? Somebody took close to $3 million, gave it to a company, and all now we don’t have a zipline. That’s the reality. That is what we are battling with. And for us in Tobago, we are saying we cannot spend close to $3 million on a zipline and there is no zipline. We want our monies back and we want our monies back with interest. That is the intent of this administration.”
In an immediate response, Dennis said: “Instead of acknowledging and accepting that he misled the public, either deliberately or mistakenly, when he said the zipline company didn’t exist, this disingenuous, uncouth Chief Secretary came today with a rather embarrassing press conference suggesting that I am trying to defend this company because of possible connections to them.
"Any sensible person will treat that statement with the rubbishing it deserves, and will also take anything he says with half a grain of salt.”
Dennis reminded Augustine, “It was I, in my capacity as Chief Secretary, who made the decisive and responsible decision to sue this same company back in 2021, in an effort to recover our monies.”
He added: “I am very happy that the professional senior counsel representing the THA confirmed that the company the Chief Secretary said a few days ago did not exist was eventually found in a subsequent search, confirming exactly what I revealed to the public. Now I hope the path is cleared to go after our monies, just as I intended when I initiated this action.”
Jeremie, who joined the press conference virtually, said a tip was received after the bank froze the assets and another search was done in the BVI for "OCT Enterprises Ltd," which produced a hit. He said the company was added as a party to the legal proceedings.