ELEVEN promises were allegedly made by former attorney general Faris Al-Rawi to convicted King’s Counsel Vincent Nelson in exchange for his testimony against former attorney general Anand Ramlogan, SC, and ex-UNC senator Gerald Ramdeen.
These alleged promises were itemised in a 36-page letter Nelson sent to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, on Wednesday. Nelson wants the DPP to appeal his 2019 conviction and 2020 sentence – in which he was ordered to pay $2.25 million in fines.
The promises, according to Nelson, are contained in the indemnity agreement between himself and Al-Rawi on behalf of the Government.
“The State made promises to Mr Nelson to induce him to enter into the indemnity. The promises were relied upon by Mr Nelson. The promises made to Mr Nelson pursuant to the indemnity have been discharged by him, while the State has now expressly reneged on the promises that were made on its behalf.
“In those circumstances, it would be fundamentally unfair and a miscarriage of justice to allow the conviction to stand where the fundamental basis for the provision of the notarised statement and subsequent convictions has now been repudiated by the State as unlawful and in breach of public policy.”
It is the State’s defence of the $96 million civil claim filed by Nelson that the indemnity agreement was “illegal as being against public policy” to agree not to disclose Nelson’s notarised statement to law enforcement bodies. The State also contends it would be illegal, contrary to public policy and unenforceable to compensate him for any damage suffered.
Nelson’s letter insists that Al-Rawi gave “express undertakings” he would not be prosecuted. In law, undertakings are legally binding promises which carries severe consequences if breached.
The letter said after the final promise was made to Nelson – which concerned payment to him – it was at this point that Nelson “decided to tell the full story of the inducements and threats.”
This, the letter said, was heightened by what was described as the DPP’s one-sided presentation to Justice Malcolm Holdip who sentenced Nelson in March 2020 in a plea deal agreement with the State.
The letter said the DPP’s statements to the court “gave the impression” the evidence Nelson provided was because of police investigations and not the indemnity and his statement.
It said Nelson was also wrongly advised he could not withdraw his guilty plea despite the plea agreement legislation allowing for it to be done any time before sentence “if a plea deal was entered as a result of an improper inducement.”
It further alleged that he was prevented from issuing a statement to the media setting out the truth that led to his prosecution. “Again, the advice that there was no ‘turning back’ once the plea was entered, was wrong in law.”
Three pages were dedicated to the plea agreement with the DPP and two to the High Court proceedings before Holdip in May 2019 and February 2020. They detailed what Nelson believes the DPP should have done as a minister of justice and officer of the court.
According to the letter, the DPP would have known about the “11 promises” at the time of sentencing and his failure to bring it to Holdip’s attention, rendered his sentence and conviction “fundamentally unfair.”
The letter also spoke about attempts to stop him from suing the State for the breach of the indemnity agreement during the 2020 general election; his hiring and firing of his former attorneys, including Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland. He also said he never gave his permission for his civil lawsuit to be kept secret by asking the court for it to remain sealed.
The grounds by which Nelson says the DPP can appeal his conviction and sentence and several case law to support the contention were also provided in the lengthy letter written by King’s Counsel Edward Fitzgerald and Varun Debideen.
The alleged promises
Promise No 1:
That on October 5, 2017, former AG Faris Al-Rawi informed Nelson’s former attorney Roger Kawalsingh that if Nelson gave a notarised statement against former UNC politicians Anand Ramlogan, SC, and Gerald Ramdeen he (Al-Rawi) would ensure that Nelson was paid for work he did for the Government.
The period for payment, the letter said, covered 2010-2013 and February-December 2018. Nelson received almost $11 million in outstanding legal fees from the State over a year before he agreed to serve as its main witness in a legal fee kickback corruption case.
Nelson was paid $10,230,502.96 between 2017 and 2018 and $768,718.50 between 2018 and 2019. This was in addition to the $40,671,814.26 he received between 2010 and 2015.
He had sued the State in 2016 over a £1.5 million retainer contract agreed between him and the AG’s Office in November 2014 to represent the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) in a series of tax appeals against energy company bpTT. The retainer included all fees associated with the appeals including travel expenses and it was agreed that he be paid in ten payments of £150,000.
On October 6, 2017, Justice Ricky Rahim dismissed the AG’s application to strike out Nelson’s lawsuit. He said the issues raised in the lawsuit needed to go to trial. The AG’s Office appealed Rahim’s ruling but it was subsequently withdrawn before it was heard by the Court of Appeal. On May 2, 2019, Nelson, Ramlogan, and Ramdeen were slapped with three corruption charges. It was later revealed that Nelson had entered into a plea agreement with the Office of the DPP in exchange for his testimony against Ramlogan and Ramdeen.
Nelson’s letter claimed that if Nelson did not provide a statement and if the AG’s office lost his civil claim for retainer fees, it would appeal to the Privy Council, prolonging the proceedings until 2020 and there could be no payment until 2024.
This, the letter said, made matters extremely difficult for Nelson, both financially and personally, as at this point in time Nelson was not working and was suffering from cancer which was deemed significant by the consulting doctor.
Promise No 2: The second alleged promise set out in the letter was that his notarised statement would only be disclosed to the DPP and the ACIB, but not any “criminal investigatory or prosecuting body” outside of TT.
Nelson gave the statement on October 26, 2017, and provided personal bank statements in return for the indemnity promised to him by Al-Rawi, the letter said.
Promise No 3: It was alleged that Al-Rawi “undertook, as part of the indemnity agreement,” to recommend to the DPP that no criminal proceedings will commence against Nelson. Al-Rawi was accused of representing to Nelson, before execution of the indemnity, that the matter was of importance to the State and any recommendation he made would be accepted.
Promise No 4: The DPP was told that the former AG recommended to him, “on diverse occasions in 2018,” that he should not prosecute Nelson. “It is inconceivable that Mr Nelson would have executed the indemnity if he had not been given this assurance.” The letter said Al-Rawi, in a sworn statement in the criminal proceedings against Ramlogan and Ramdeen, that the indemnity and his notarised statement, were disclosed to the DPP and its contents were known to him (Gaspard) at all material times.
“ln the course of this process, Mr Nelson was placed in an extremely difficult and oppressive position. He did not want to make a statement or provide personal confidential documents and or information to the GORTT.
“However, Mr Nelson was made to believe that the only way he could obtain the sums owed to him in a timely manner so that he could access medical attention, was by providing what (was) demanded, as pursuing the matter in the High Court did not guarantee the timely receipt of funds, or at all.”
The letter said the Government knew that Nelson was anxious not to prolong matters because of his ill health and his financial position and “had no realistic option but to comply with his request.” The letter maintains that these were used to “coerce and/or induce Mr Nelson into making the statement and extract information concerning Ramdeen and Ramlogan.”
“Without these assurances (promises 1-4), Mr Nelson would never have provided the notarised statement or the confidential information.” The indemnity agreement was executed in November 2017 and Nelson’s statement was given on October 26, 2017, and notarised by John Jeffery of Stamford, UK.
Promises 5-9: These alleged promises related to the indemnity agreement and Nelson’s statement. It alleged that the TT Government would not ceed to the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) unless he gave statements implicating Ramlogan and Ramdeen and he would be prosecuted in TT instead of the UK and avoid being jailed there and have his assets confiscated; that the Government would ensure that he received a presidential pardon on months after he was sentenced and that he would receive “full monetary compensation” in keeping with the terms of the indemnity agreement after sentencing.
Promises 10-11: These alleged that “an undertaking” was provided to Nelson and his attorney agreeing to pay him which came “after” he threatened not to surrender to TT authorities and threatened to take the Government to court unless they stood by the indemnity agreement.
“Mr Nelson had at this stage decided that he needed to tell the full story of the inducements and threats which had been held out…”
Five pages of the letter set out the background leading up to his giving the statement allegedly implicating Ramlogan and Ramdeen in 2018 and the indemnity agreement and alleged they were obtained by “threats and/or oppression and/or inducements that which he would otherwise not have obtained by lawful means.”