In the past week police in Trinidad arrested and charged two prominent opposition-connected attorneys with malfeasance for links to a scheme that allegedly involved officials of the previous government paying astronomical sums of money to friends and colleagues for legal briefs connected to cases the state was involved with.
Police raided the homes and arrested former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and former Senator Gerald Ramdeen for their part in a massive conspiracy to defraud the state of millions of dollars through the alleged fees kickback, racketeering scheme. The two were prominent figures in the Indo-dominated United National Congress government, which was booted out of office in 2015.
The state is contending that more than U.S. $200 million in fees for legal briefs during the five-year term of the UNC was part of an elaborate scheme by the AG’s office and close associates to cream off millions from the state by overpaying for services. Both Ranlogan and Ramdeen have vehemently denied the charges but authorities say they have more than enough proof after painstakingly investigating the alleged scheme for more than three years. Trinidad has a population of 1.3 million and is rich in oil and gas. Successive administrations have been plagued by a culture of either corruption by officials or squander mania of public funds.
For the UNC, its leader and former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is arguing that the charges are being deliberately instituted at this time to damage the chances of the UNC in elections due next year. The state says it did not get value for money and boasts that Vincent Nelson, a British attorney of Jamaican heritage who was retained by the UNC on a number of cases, has already been turned whistleblower/main state witness and will unload all he knows when the trial starts in the coming weeks. He is being provided with blanket security to ensure he testifies and will be allowed to leave the island until officials are ready for him.
Widespread and credible allegations of corruption have been cited as the main reason why the UNC lost the elections to the Afro-supported People’s National Movement. The PNM has been taking stick from the populace for some political mistakes and inabilities including difficulty controlling a spiraling murder rate that has so far seen nearly 160 deaths this year, but polls are already showing that it has received a political bump up from the arrests of two men who are widely regarded as incredibly arrogant and cocky.
Investigators say there is evidence that the higher than usual fees for legal briefs were deliberately made to leave enough money to be divided up by those involved. Current Attorney General Faris Al Rawi says investigators and prosecutors will go all the way.
“Due process is required and people will have their say in the respective forum they must,” Al-Rawi told Guardian Media. “The office of the AG has discharged its duty on a host of corruption matters with alacrity and serious complexity. We’ve provided all that we must to the police. What we did is that we did our jobs. We did the respective investigative aspects within the boundaries we have. We referred whatever we had to refer in many matters not just current matters. We’ve referred these matters to the respective authorities. I expect those authorities will be acting with the same degree of anxious alacrity that government acts,” he said.
And in an interesting development when the two appeared in court on Monday, May 6, attorney Pamela Elder asked the court to deal with the cases quickly as star witness Nelson is stricken with prostate cancer and could die anytime soon.
“He is ill so we ask that the matter proceed as soon as possible so if he were to pass on we would have his evidence,” Elder suggested. “The state has said it will be alacritous with this case.” The second hearing is scheduled for June 28.