AG joined in foreign tobacco distributor’s lawsuit against Health Ministry

Attorney General Reginald Armour. - File photo by Jeff K Mayers
Attorney General Reginald Armour. - File photo by Jeff K Mayers

A HIGH COURT judge has granted an application by an international tobacco distributor to include the Attorney General in its lawsuit against the Health Ministry’s decision to shut down its operations in 2022 for failing to have relevant licences.

In March 2023, Justice Frank Seepersad granted North American Trading Company Ltd (NATCO) leave to pursue its judicial review lawsuit against the ministry.

On June 2, he granted NATCO’s application and ordered that the AG be added as a party to the claim.

“A constitutional claim was made and by virtue of this, the AG ought to be the party which represents the State in such proceedings.

“Furthermore, apart from special damages, based on the outcome of the constitutional claim, there are other remedies which can be made, bearing in mind the court has the power to craft new remedies in claims of a constitutional nature.

“Remedies can still lie by way of a declaration, vindicatory damages or exemplary damages.

“The addition of the AG would enable the court to resolve the matters in dispute and furthermore, the constitutional aspect of the claim makes it necessary to have the AG added as a party.”

When it filed its application for judicial review, the company sought an injunction but withdrew it after the ministry agreed to allow NATCO to continue its operations without the requisite licenses while consultations were held with the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

According to the court filings, the company, located at the Intercontinental Business Park, Free Zone Complex, in D’Abadie, began operating almost 20 years ago after registering with the TT Free Zones Company Ltd under the Free Zone Act.

Under the legislation, registered and approved companies are given specific tax concessions and exemptions.

The company claimed that it imports tobacco products from international manufacturers and stores them in its local warehouse before exporting them to retailers in the Caribbean and Latin America. It noted that it does not retail or distribute its products in Trinidad and Tobago.

NATCO said in January 2022, it was informed of the operationalisation of a new special economic zone regime.

In November 2022, customs and police officers raided the company without a warrant.

The company was then told by the ministry it could not continue to operate without licenses under the Tobacco Control Act.

The company claimed that it lost approximately US$979,714 by the decision as it was forced to stop its planned imports and exports.

In the lawsuit, NATCO contended that the ministry’s decision was unreasonable and irrational. It is contending that the ministry’s unit did not have inherent jurisdiction within a free zone such as where it operates.

Through the lawsuit, the company is seeking a series of declarations against the decision as well as compensation.

The company was represented by John Heath, SC, Lionel Luckhoo and Sheldon Mycoo. The ministry was represented by Michael Quamina, SC, and Vincent Jardine.


"AG joined in foreign tobacco distributor’s lawsuit against Health Ministry"

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