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.