Jamaican-born British Queen’s Counsel Vincent Nelson received almost $11 million in outstanding legal fees from the State over a year before he agreed to serve as its main witness in a legal fee kickback corruption case against former attorney general Anand Ramlogan, SC, and former opposition senator Gerald Ramdeen.
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 on Friday, 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.
Guardian Media understands that in 2016, Nelson sued the state over a £1.5 million retainer contract agreed between him and the AG’s Office in November 2014 to represent the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) in a series of tax appeals against energy company BP Trinidad and Tobago (bpTT).
The retainer included all fees associated with the appeals including travel expenses and it was agreed that he be paid in ten payments of £150,000.
Nelson only received three of the monthly payments and was forced to file the lawsuit to recover the remainder.
In his evidence in the case, Nelson admitted that the retainer was chosen to ensure that there would be no issue with repayment in the event that there was a change of Government after the general election in September 2015.
At the time, the Office of the Attorney General strongly opposed Nelson’s claim and applied to High Court Judge Ricky Rahim to strike out the lawsuit at a preliminary stage for it being an abuse of process.
On October 6, 2017, Rahim dismissed the application as he disagreed that segments of the Legal Profession Act (LPA), which only gives attorneys the power to sue their clients for unpaid fees in circumstances where the fees invoiced were independently assessed by a High Court Master or Registrar, applied.
He also noted that the issues raised in the lawsuit needed to go to trial, as the AG’s Office was at the time claiming that Nelson breached his retainer contract by failing to complete the tasks agreed upon, as the BIR cases were settled without a full hearing as initially anticipated.
“These matters can only be decided if they are raised in a defence and the issues are tried. It however appears to this court that the defendant has accepted that a retainer was entered into for the payment of the fees,” Rahim said as he gave the AG’s Office an extension to file its defence to the lawsuit.
Guardian Media understands that the AG’s Office appealed Rahim’s ruling but it was subsequently withdrawn before it was heard by the Court of Appeal.
On May 2, 2019, Nelson, Ramlogan, and Ramdeen were slapped with three corruption charges.
The trio was accused of 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.
It was later revealed that Nelson had entered into a plea agreement with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in exchange for his testimony against Ramlogan and Ramdeen.
In March, last year, 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.
Holdip fined Nelson $250,000 for allegedly conspiring with Ramlogan and Ramdeen, to breach Section 3 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, which criminalises corruption through bribery.
He was fined $2 million for allegedly conspiring with the duo to breach Section 45 of the Proceeds of Crime Act, which criminalises the concealment of the proceeds of crime.
Under his plea agreement, the conspiracy to commit misbehaviour in public office charge was dropped.
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.
Last December, the DPP’s Office indicated that it would be filing indictments against Ramlogan and Ramdeen directly in the High Court instead of doing so after a protracted preliminary inquiry, which could take several months or over a year to complete.
Contacted yesterday, Al-Rawi declined to comment on whether the payments made to Nelson during his tenure were related to the discontinued case before Rahim.
He was careful to note that the documents laid in Parliament did not specifically identify the work performed by private attorneys or the period it was done, only the fees paid to them.
He also declined to comment on any perceived link to the pending case against Ramlogan and Ramdeen so as to avoid causing any undue pre-trial publicity.
“That is a matter in the DPP’s Office. Go and ask him,” Al-Rawi said.
Instead, Al-Rawi chose to focus on the successes achieved by his office during his tenure as he pointed to the substantial reduction in the total fees paid to private attorneys.
In total, between 2015 and this year, $410.5 million was spent as compared to $494,848,294.22 between 2010 and 2015.
Al-Rawi noted that of the money expended during his tenure, over $122 million was spent to clear debts to attorneys incurred during the previous People’s Partnership Government. Almost $149 million was expended solely for and at the discretion of the DPP’s Office.
Al-Rawi stated that despite the minimal budget, his office was still able to operationalise several pieces of important legislation and establish the Public Defenders’ Department in addition to pursuing a robust legislative agenda.
It was also able to retain competent attorneys to defend the State in 1,075 cases, Al-Rawi said.
The issue over the fees was raised in Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee (SFC) meeting, last month.
Al-Rawi initially declined to publish the names of attorneys who worked for the State and the fees they received as he claimed that he had received legal advice from Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein over the issue.
Following the statement, political and social activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj threatened legal action over the disclosure and his lawyers questioned the advice given by Hosein.
“It creates the perception that you were seeking advice to support a preconceived position against disclosure of this information from a person who would benefit financially from the same,” Maharaj’s lawyer Ganesh Saroop said, in the letter obtained by Guardian Media.
The documents subsequently disclosed showed that between 2015 and last year, Hosein received almost $17 million in legal fees as compared to a little over $1 million between 2010 and 2015.
In disclosing the fees in Parliament on Friday, Al-Rawi noted that Cabinet had made the decision after informing the beneficiaries of the proposed move.
Guardian Media understands that a proportion of the fees spent between 2010 and 2015 may also be for services performed prior to the period as with the arrears inherited by Al-Rawi.
The fees do not include those incurred by State boards and for Commissions of Enquiries.