More hush-hush sales at Clico?

Lawrence Duprey, former executive chairman of Clico. -
Lawrence Duprey, former executive chairman of Clico. -

THE GOOD news is Colonial Life Insurance Co (Trinidad) Ltd (Clico) has reported an after-tax profit of $2.3 billion for 2023.

The bad news is the economic, legal, political and ethical implications of the 2009 state bailout of its parent company, CL Financial, continue to unfold.

The mixed legacy of that bailout remains fraught. And the stakes seem to be almost as high as they were on day one.

Fifteen years after the emergency intervention, the company, formally headquartered at 29 St Vincent Street, Port of Spain, this month published its consolidated financial statements outlining a marked improvement in profits, up from the $621.4 million recorded in 2022.

We were told of a $1.99 billion gain due to the disposal of a subsidiary, Methanol Holdings International Ltd (MHIL) and $958 million in profit being generated from energy operations.

MHIL is understood to have one subsidiary, Oman Methanol Company LLC. The sale, significantly done pursuant to "the approval of shareholders," was reportedly completed in December, 2023.

The purchaser was identified as Consolidated Energy Ltd (CEL).

This transaction has raised eyebrows, not the least because of a note from auditors KPMG, stating they were "denied access to the necessary audit working papers and group reporting from the subsidiary in order to allow us to complete the required audit procedures."

The year-end timing of the transaction may well explain this disclaimer, as well as the fact that it was finalised only weeks after the appointment of a brand new board of directors.

However, what is unnerving here is the fact that there is a perception of a history of controversial conduct at Clico and CL Financial involving clandestine fire sales of lucrative assets by officials such as former company jefe Lawrence Duprey.

To wit, an aborted disposal of methanol assets to CEL, an affiliate of Proman Holding (Barbados) Ltd, was noted in a recent Court of Appeal ruling.

That ruling, subject to further appeal, itself made highly adverse findings, involving fraud and dishonesty, in relation to a US$46.5 million Clico Energy Company Ltd share sale decades ago.

Policyholder groups and other stakeholders will be weary of any hint of history repeating itself.

It would seem this time around more regular processes were involved, but the asset was significant enough for questions about the transaction to be answered to allay concerns and instil confidence in a new company direction.

Unfortunately, the ghost of 2009 will loom yet further over this entity notwithstanding the fact that the Central Bank relinquished its emergency control in 2018.

An unrelated court matter, brought by a group of citizens and institutions from Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada against the TT Government over CLF subsidiary British American Insurance Co Ltd (BAICO), is pending.

That case, before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), alleges discrimination and violation of Caricom treaty law. It could have far-ranging political implications.

The CCJ on April 30 reserved its ruling.

At a time when budget revenues are not guaranteed, all these issues will only continue to underline the costs involved in this unprecedented intervention, premised on systemic vulnerability.


"More hush-hush sales at Clico?"

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