WITH Clico – Colonial Life Insurance Co – finally being relieved of emergency control by the Central Bank 13 years later, its executive chairman Claire Gomez-Miller says focus will now be on starting new business and “going behind every dollar” from its claim for $11 billion against its parent company, CL Financial (CLF).
She was speaking at a press conference at the Central Bank, Port of Spain, on Tuesday to discuss the exit and its implications for the future.
In 2009, the Central Bank took control of Clico to “prevent substantial disruption posed to the domestic financial system by Clico’s collapse.”
And on December 1, it relinquished this control as Clico paid off $17.3 billion in debt, inclusive of interest, and now owes an interest-inclusive amount of $1.68 billion.
Clico is also in the sale process for Methanol Holdings (International) Ltd (MHIL) shares – specifically 36.63 per cent – to help clear the remaining debt owed to the government.
In 2019, MHIL had a total share value of $2.7 billion with Clico owning 49 per cent and CLF claimed seven per cent.
But in 2018, Clico submitted an $11 billion claim to CLF, which was liquidated by the government in 2017 as it sought to recover a $15 billion debt to taxpayers as part of the 2009 bailout of four of the company’s subsidiaries.
Gomez-Miller said she wanted to make it clear that Clico was not the perpetrator in the matter, but the victim.
“So we expect that we are going to be fighting to get almost all our claims settled.
“What it is we can’t get settled, okay, fine...We’re understanding, we’re very realistic.”
She said she knows in some cases, it may just be 50 cent or a dollar earned, but the company has a “strong legal team,” and substantial evidence.
“I don’t do anything without evidence...We are going behind every dollar.”
She said even if Clico just gets back $5 billion or $6 billion, “It will be worth the fight, and that will make a big difference for us also as we move forward.
“A lot of work would have taken place to validate each and every one of those cases.”
She said while the company’s current licence does not allow it to “start new business,” it will be a priority once such a licence is acquired. But she said it may not be as soon as next year.
As far as she’s aware, Clico is “the biggest, most aggressive” claimant.
She said Clico's founder, Cyril Duprey, left a "solid foundation" but that when she took up her role in 2017, it lacked risk intelligence and corporate compliance.
"So the organisation has really matured during that period of time."
She added that more had to be done with fewer staff members as there were over 1,000 workers which eventually reduced to around 130.
"You're looking at the same mammoth-sized organisation still being managed but with a smaller workforce, very lean."
She said the team had five years to ensure Clico had a good chance of survival.
When asked about the governance structure of Clico moving forward, she said the liquidators will have at least one director on the executive board and if not, it will have "continuous oversight."
"I think we need to look at the fact that, as we said before, there is an $11 billion claim that we are dealing with for Clico so it means there must be some level of arms length as we move forward with the organisation."
In 2019, Sagicor Life Inc acquired the traditional insurance portfolios of Clico and British American Insurance Company Trinidad Ltd.
But this was challenged by Maritime Life (Caribbean) Ltd which accused the bank of acting irrationally, unfairly, and unconstitutionally by entering into sale and purchase agreements with Sagicor Life for an undisclosed sum.
Maritime’s bid for the Clico portfolio was approximately $7.86 billion, and $516.8 million for BAT. It claimed its bid was some $400 million more than Sagicor’s.
Asked about this, Gomez-Miller said the sale of the portfolio "cannot remain in suspension," but that given the justice system in TT, it may be another ten years until a decision is made.
She said she would be "very much surprised" if it takes a shorter time.
"Clico cannot continue to not do new business," she said, adding that a business decision has to be made.
Gomez-Miller was also asked if Lawrence Duprey – former chairman of CLF and nephew of Cyril Duprey – made any claim for ownership or shareholding in the company; she sought to clarify that CLF and Clico are not the same.
She said Clico has been trying to "retain Cyril's brand."
"Remember, CLF is in liquidation, and I have never experienced when a company has gone into liquidation that it is ever revived. It's not like going into receivership.
"I don't expect that CLF, after the liquidation, will continue to exist. I do expect that Clico will exist."