State’s main witness refuses to testify in corruption case

Derek Achong

The le­gal fee kick­back case against for­mer at­tor­ney gen­er­al Anand Ram­lo­gan, SC, and for­mer op­po­si­tion sen­a­tor Ger­ald Ramdeen has col­lapsed due to po­ten­tial de­lays in the State’s main wit­ness giv­ing ev­i­dence. 

The de­ci­sion to dis­con­tin­ue the cor­rup­tion charges against the duo was an­nounced by Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions (DPP) Roger Gas­pard, SC, as their case came up for vir­tu­al hear­ing be­fore Chief Mag­is­trate Maria Bus­by-Ear­le-Cad­dle, yes­ter­day af­ter­noon. 

Stat­ing that his of­fice de­cid­ed on the course of ac­tion af­ter “anx­ious con­sid­er­a­tion”, Gas­pard in­di­cat­ed that it was based on the fact that Ja­maica-born British King’s Coun­sel Vin­cent Nel­son de­clined to be­gin his tes­ti­mo­ny in the duo’s pre­lim­i­nary in­quiry, be­fore the de­ter­mi­na­tion of a civ­il law­suit with the Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al over an in­dem­ni­ty agree­ment. 

While he not­ed that his of­fice was not a par­ty to the on­go­ing lit­i­ga­tion, Gas­pard said that in the case Nel­son is seek­ing dam­ages over an al­leged breach of the agree­ment, which was signed be­tween him and for­mer at­tor­ney gen­er­al and cur­rent Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Min­is­ter Faris Al-Rawi be­fore he (Nel­son) pro­vid­ed a state­ment im­pli­cat­ing the duo. 

“The State cur­rent­ly does not have the pow­er to com­pel Mr Nel­son to give ev­i­dence in this mat­ter,” he said, as he stat­ed that Nel­son can­not be ex­tra­dit­ed. 

Gas­pard point­ed out that his of­fice con­sid­ered ap­ply­ing to have Nel­son’s wit­ness state­ments ten­dered in­to ev­i­dence with­out him tes­ti­fy­ing and be­ing cross-ex­am­ined over the con­tents but de­cid­ed against it. 

“The State is of the view that it would be un­fair to leave the case against these de­fen­dants in lim­bo pend­ing the out­come of the civ­il claim when there is no date for its con­clu­sion,” Gas­pard said, as he not­ed that it (the civ­il case) come up for case man­age­ment in De­cem­ber. 

He al­so said that the out­come of the civ­il case may af­fect the prospect of se­cur­ing con­vic­tions against the duo as Nel­son’s cred­i­bil­i­ty may be called in­to ques­tion in it. 

Gas­pard was care­ful to note that his of­fice may de­cide to re­in­state the charges af­ter Nel­son’s law­suit is even­tu­al­ly de­ter­mined. 

He al­so stat­ed that his of­fice and the T&T Po­lice Ser­vice (TTPS) could not be fault­ed for the out­come of the case. 

“As far as I can see the TTPS would have done all that it could have done to se­cure a dif­fer­ent out­come but the out­come to­day has been col­ored by fac­tors that fall out­side the strictest con­fines of the TTPS and DPP’s Of­fice,” he said. 

The charges against Ram­lo­gan, and Ramdeen arose out of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to al­most $1 bil­lion in le­gal fees which was paid to pri­vate le­gal prac­ti­tion­ers, who rep­re­sent­ed the State and State com­pa­nies in le­gal pro­ceed­ings dur­ing Ram­lo­gan’s tenure be­tween 2010 and 2015.  

The law­suits in­clud­ed sev­er­al over cor­rup­tion which al­leged­ly oc­curred un­der for­mer prime min­is­ter Patrick Man­ning.

In 2019, Ram­lo­gan, Ramdeen, and Nel­son were charged with con­spir­ing to­geth­er to re­ceive, con­ceal and trans­fer crim­i­nal prop­er­ty name­ly the re­wards giv­en to Ram­lo­gan by Nel­son for be­ing ap­point­ed to rep­re­sent the State in sev­er­al cas­es; of con­spir­ing to­geth­er to cor­rupt­ly give Ram­lo­gan a per­cent­age of the funds and of con­spir­ing with to make Ram­lo­gan mis­be­have in pub­lic of­fice by re­ceiv­ing the funds. 

Short­ly af­ter be­ing charged, Nel­son en­tered in­to a plea agree­ment with the DPP’s Of­fice in ex­change for his tes­ti­mo­ny against Ram­lo­gan and Ramdeen.

In March 2020, High Court Judge Mal­colm Holdip up­held the plea agree­ment and is­sued a to­tal of $2.25 mil­lion in fines to Nel­son for his role in the al­leged con­spir­a­cy.

Un­der his plea agree­ment, the con­spir­a­cy to com­mit mis­be­hav­iour in pub­lic of­fice charge was dropped and he was fined for the oth­er two of­fences. 

As part of his sen­tence, Holdip said that Nel­son, who had been in pro­tec­tive cus­tody dur­ing his vis­its to Trinidad for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and sen­tenc­ing, was free to re­turn to the Unit­ed King­dom while he cleared the fines un­der a 10-month court-ap­proved pay­ment plan.

He was al­so placed on a $250,000 bond to keep the peace for three years.

Ear­ly this year, ex­cerpts of the pur­port­ed in­dem­ni­ty agree­ment were shared on so­cial me­dia. 

Con­tact­ed by this news­pa­per at the time, Al-Rawi did not de­ny the le­git­i­ma­cy of the doc­u­ment but de­clined to com­ment on it, as he said it re­lates to mat­ters cur­rent­ly be­fore the courts. 

“In the cir­cum­stances, it would be un­wise of me to en­gage in a dis­cus­sion of this top­ic in pub­lic, as it would be equal­ly un­wise of you to pub­lish any such dis­cus­sion giv­en that there are pend­ing crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings to which this top­ic may be rel­e­vant,” Al-Rawi said. 

“The sub ju­dice rule ap­plies here to pro­tect the fair­ness of the crim­i­nal process which might be af­fect­ed by un­due pub­lic­i­ty,” he added.    

The agree­ment re­lat­ed to Nel­son pro­vid­ing the Gov­ern­ment with a no­tarised state­ment to be used to com­mence the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the duo. 

In the doc­u­ment, Al-Rawi, as the le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Gov­ern­ment, agreed that Nel­son’s state­ment would not be re­leased in­to the pub­lic do­main in­clud­ing through Par­lia­men­tary de­bate.

While it stat­ed that the state­ment would be dis­closed to the DPP’s Of­fice and the An­ti-Cor­rup­tion In­ves­ti­gat­ing Bu­reau, it not­ed it would not be dis­closed to pros­e­cut­ing, tax en­force­ment, reg­u­la­to­ry or dis­ci­pli­nary au­thor­i­ties out­side of T&T. 

It al­so promised that no civ­il lit­i­ga­tion to re­coup the le­gal fees al­ready paid to him would be tak­en against him with re­gard to the state­ment. 

Ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments over le­gal fees paid to pri­vate prac­ti­tion­ers by the Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al over the past six years, which were laid in Par­lia­ment, last year, 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. 

Al-Rawi al­so agreed to make rep­re­sen­ta­tions to the DPP’s Of­fice for him not to be pros­e­cut­ed. 

“The At­tor­ney Gen­er­al un­der­takes to rec­om­mend to the DPP, who has the pow­er to de­ter­mine whether any crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings can or will be com­menced against you in re­spect of any of the mat­ters aris­ing out of the no­tarised state­ment, that no crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings be com­menced against you,” it stat­ed. 

The agree­ment al­so sought to in­dem­ni­fy Nel­son from any lit­i­ga­tion over the al­le­ga­tions con­tained in the state­ment, which it ac­knowl­edged may be chal­lenged for defama­tion.

Gas­pard’s de­ci­sion in the case now means that Ram­lo­gan, who at­tend­ed yes­ter­day’s vir­tu­al hear­ing from the Unit­ed King­dom as he was mak­ing sub­mis­sions be­fore the Privy Coun­cil in an un­re­lat­ed case, now on­ly faces wit­ness tam­per­ing charges. 

In that case, Ram­lo­gan is ac­cused of ob­struct­ing jus­tice by us­ing threats and bribery to per­suade Po­lice Com­plaints Au­thor­i­ty (PCA) Di­rec­tor David West to not give ev­i­dence in his (Ram­lo­gan) defama­tion case against then Op­po­si­tion Leader and cur­rent Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley.

He is al­so ac­cused of mis­be­hav­ing in pub­lic of­fice by im­prop­er­ly en­deav­our­ing for West not to tes­ti­fy on Row­ley’s be­half. 

The of­fences al­leged­ly oc­curred in Oc­to­ber 2014, while for­mer na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty min­is­ter and po­lice com­mis­sion­er Gary Grif­fith, who is al­so a wit­ness in the case, was serv­ing as na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty min­is­ter. 

Short­ly af­ter for­mer act­ing po­lice com­mis­sion­er Stephen Williams ini­ti­at­ed an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the al­le­ga­tions in Feb­ru­ary 2015, then-prime min­is­ter Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar ad­vised the Pres­i­dent to re­voke Ram­lo­gan and Grif­fith’s ap­point­ments. 

Ram­lo­gan was even­tu­al­ly charged with the of­fences in 2017. 

The start of the pre­lim­i­nary in­quiry, in that case, has been put on hold as Ram­lo­gan pur­sues a civ­il law­suit al­leg­ing that his con­sti­tu­tion­al rights were in­fringed when po­lice of­fi­cers in­ves­ti­gat­ing him ob­tained a se­ries of war­rants to wire­tap his phones. 

He is al­so claim­ing that for­mer High Court Judge and cur­rent Ap­pel­late Judge Gillian Lucky could be per­ceived to be bi­ased in grant­i­ng five of the war­rants as they had a pub­lic dis­agree­ment while they were serv­ing as at­tor­ney gen­er­al and PCA Di­rec­tor, re­spec­tive­ly. 

Ram­lo­gan was rep­re­sent­ed by Pamela El­der, SC, and Rus­sell Warn­er, while Wayne Sturge and Alex­ia Romero rep­re­sent­ed Ramdeen. 



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