The State is set to begin the process of enforcing its over US$131.5 million judgment against former government minister Brian Kuei Tung, businessman Steve Ferguson and US businessman Raul Guiterrez Jr in a civil asset recovery case over alleged fraud related to the construction of the Piarco International Airport.
Former attorney general and current Rural Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi announced the plan at a virtual media conference yesterday.
He announced that Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Reemberto Diaz had approved the final judgment sought by the State, initially approved by a jury in March, after dismissing a series of last-minute challenges from the trio.
“The monies spent over 20 years of litigation have now been justified,” Al-Rawi said.
He explained that the enforcement process would entail the State’s lawyers applying to the US court for the disclosure of the trio’s US assets. He also explained that the three individuals do not have to pay equal portions of the judgment sum, as the entire compensation could be taken from one depending on the circumstances.
“It does not have to be split in three. It is up to them how they are going to treat with the civil liability amongst themselves,” Al-Rawi said.
He also noted that while the trio signalled their intention to appeal the judgment before Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal, they are yet to make good on their threat.
“There is no appeal as I speak to you now,” Al-Rawi said, as he noted there was no impediment to the State going forward with its recovery efforts.
He added that in order for them to challenge the judgment and stay it pending an appeal, they would be required to post a bond to cover their entire potential liability, as well as two years’ interest calculated at US$9 million per year.
“The state is going to take every mechanism possible to defend the judgment,” he said.
In a press release after Al-Rawi’s media conference, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar questioned the “newsworthiness” of the update provided by him.
She accused him of using the conference as a diversion from an upcoming Privy Council judgment in a lawsuit over a move to extend the term of local government representatives.
“It is interesting that Al-Rawi is desperately trying to distract attention from the judgment of the Privy Council which is due to be delivered on Thursday morning,” she said.
“We cannot help but wonder whether Al-Rawi’s shenanigans are an attempt to create a diversion to distract people’s attention away from this historic judgment.”
The final judgment obtained in the Miami case is based on the US$32,385,988 in compensation by the jury, which has to be tripled as the racketeering charges were filed under the US’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act (RICO).
The country also successfully sought US$38,876,972.89 in pre-judgment interest less US$4,631,691, which was previously paid by the trio in settlements and restitution.
The US lawsuit relates to the alleged inflation of two construction contracts and a maintenance contract for the airport.
The US case is separate from four local criminal cases over the airport project.
In the first case, commonly referred to as Piarco One, a group of government officials and businesspeople was charged with offences related to the alleged theft of $19 million.
The group included businessman Ishwar Galbaransingh, Kuei Tung; former national security minister Russell Huggins; former Nipdec chairman Edward Bayley (now deceased); Maritime General executives John Smith (now deceased), Ferguson, and Barbara Gomes; Northern Construction Financial Director Amrith Maharaj; and Kuei Tung’s then companion Renee Pierre.
Some of the group and other public officials were also slapped with separate charges over an alleged broader conspiracy in another case, commonly referred to as Piarco Two.
The Piarco Three case pertained to a £25,000 bribe allegedly received by former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and his wife Oma and allegedly paid by Galbaransingh and former Government Minister Carlos John as an alleged inducement in relation to the airport project. The Piarco Four case only involves Pierre.
In 2019, a High Court Judge upheld a legal challenge over the Piarco Two case after former senior magistrate Ejenny Espinet retired with the preliminary inquiry almost complete.
The ruling meant that the preliminary inquiry into the Piarco Two case had to be restarted afresh before a new magistrate along with the Piarco Three inquiry, which was also before Espinet and left incomplete upon her retirement. The Piarco Four inquiry was completed with Pierre being committed to stand trial.
In June last year, the United Kingdom-based Privy Council upheld an appeal from some of the accused in the Piarco 1 case over the decision of former chief magistrate Sherman McNicolls to commit them to stand trial for the charges.
The Privy Council ruled that McNicholls should have upheld their application for him to recuse himself from the case as he was “hopelessly compromised” based on a then-pending land deal with Clico and the involvement of former attorney general John Jeremie, SC, in helping him resolve it.
In March, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, discontinued the Piarco Three case against the Pandays, Galbaransingh and John.
Gaspard said his decision was based on the low probability of his office securing convictions in the case.
Gaspard subsequently noted that he planned to continue prosecuting the remaining cases.