AG goes after bank records of Contractors

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has filed for judicial assistance in the United States to subpoena bank records of local contractors and their families there.

The objective is to trace the source of funds connected to multi-million dollar properties bought by these contractors in Florida that were named in a 2016 civil lawsuit and to determine whether the monies they allegedly corruptly received in Trinidad and Tobago were deposited in US bank accounts.

In the application filed in October 2017 in a US court, the State indicated the evidence would assist in a pending civil matter before the Trinidad and Tobago High Court of Justice on behalf of three State-owned entities and their respective line ministries: Housing Development Corporation (HDC), Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL) and the Estate Management and Business Development Company Ltd (EMBD).

The AG explained in the court documents that they were seeking ‘evidence to support a claim filed by the HDC and its line ministry against nine defendants and to support a series of claims made by putative claimants and their respective line ministries that will be brought against several contractors and public officials in Trinidad and Tobago for inter alia, fraud, bid rigging, breach of fiduciary duty, unlawful means conspiracy, dishonest assistance in breach of fiduciary duty, unconscionable knowing receipt of public funds and breach of contract under Trinidadian law.’

Property purchases

Then-minister in the Office of the Attorney General Stuart Young

who had called a press conference in 2016, explained that the contemplated civil action was brought after a year-long forensic investigation in which the named contractors allegedly engaged in illicit cartel behaviour and were awarded contracts at inflated market rates and in some instances received payment for work not performed at all in the run-up to the 2015 general election.

Young then had identified the companies as TN Ramnauth and Company Ltd (TN Ramnauth), Mootilal Ramhit and Sons Contracting Ltd (Ramhit), Namalco Construction Services Ltd (Namalco), Fides Ltd (Fides) and Kall Company Ltd (Kallco) which was awarded a construction package for the Churchill Roosevelt Highway extension to Manzanilla.

In court documents obtained by CCN from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the Trinidad and Tobago government said, ‘It is believed that some of the contemplated defendants used the proceeds of this corruption scheme to purchase real property and/or open bank accounts in the Southern District of Florida.’

Two properties-one owned by the Ramnauths at 800 Northwest 120th Avenue, Plantation, Florida which according to websites are valued at between $US1.7 million and $2 million – and a high-rise apartment (Unit 1501) owned by the Ramhits at Diplomat Oceanfront residences at Hollywood in Fort Lauderdale form part of the Trinidad and Tobago government’s request for information.

In ‘Exhibit A’ attached to the application, Young in his declaration of support for the judicial assistance explains that the ‘HDC, EFCL and EMBD will be claimants in a series of contemplated proceedings against specific contractors and public officials, some of whom will overlap as defendants in more than one proceeding.’

Young names several discovery targets that they expect to be subpoenaed to testify at the deposition in a civil action at the attorney’s law office of Arnoldo Lacayo representing the Attorney General in this matter.

They asked that real estate agents involved in the transactions of the properties, lawyers and other related businesses, make themselves available at a date and time to be announced. These included:

Daniel Carusi-a title and escrow agent who represented the sellers involving a property that is believed to have been bought by one of the contemplated defendants. Diplomat Oceanfront Residences Condominium Association attorney David Bauman represented the seller involving a property purchased by one of the contemplated defendants at Northwest Avenue Plantation. Zareefa Khan-a registered agent who paid taxes with regard to the Plantation property which is ‘believed to have been purchased by one of the contemplated defendants with proceeds of the aforementioned fraud and corruption.’

Norma Echarte, a registered agent was also requested to testify and provide financial information and any communication between Fides Ltd and its representatives including Naeem Ali, Ansaar Ali, Homala Ali, Ryad Ali and Alisha Ali.

There were also requests to subpoena the bank records of Wells Fargo for the following, as indicated in ‘Exhibit B’: Arvin Kalloo, Aeron Kalloo, Gareth Kalloo, Kalawati Kalloo, Pravin Kalloo, Anaya Ganesh Kalloo, Nanda Ramhit, Premchand Ramhit, Roopchand Ramhit, Ryan Ramhit, Jamie Ramnauth, Meena Ramnauth and Taradath Nandlal Ramnauth.

A similar request was also made to JP Morgan Chase Bank to subpoena the bank records of T& M Enterprises, J2 Investments Inc, Global Supplies Florida, Jamie Ramnauth, Meena Ramnauth, Taradath Ramnauth and Jason Ramnauth.

Amended application

However, on July 23 this year the Attorney General through his attorney Lacayo filed a motion to amend the application asking for the scope of financial institutions to be widened as well as other businesses that might have conducted business with some of the contemplated defendants.

One day later, Judge Alicia Otazo- Reyes granted the motion allowing the Attorney General to collect further evidence from Royal Bank of Canada, TD Bank, Bank of America, Barclays Bank, JP Morgan Chase Bank, First American Title Insurance, MDC Read Estate Enterprises, MDC Real Estate Holdings as well as Meena Ramnauth, the wife of one of the defendants who the Attorney General ‘is believed to have received a substantial amount of the proceeds of the alleged fraud in her accounts at JP Morgan Chase.’

Permission was also granted for collection evidence from Jamie Ramnauth, the daughter of one of the contemplated defendants who is said to be the treasurer of J2 Investments and ‘is believed to have substantial amount of the proceeds of fraud in her account at JP Morgan Chase.’

Both women reside in Florida the court documents revealed.

What the Attorney General also noted in his amended application was that registered agent for the companies Global Supplies Florida, J2 Investments and T& M Enterprises Florida (owned by TN Ramnauth), Zareefa Khan in her deposition given on December 12, 2017, ‘did not confer with the principals of those companies to determine whether they possessed documents responsive to the subpoena. In fact, Ms Khan did not know what the business of each company was, despite appearing for them as registered agent. Moreover, bank statements produced by Ms Khan on behalf of the companies show that the companies received ‘loans’ from TNR. The companies, however, did not produce any other document regarding the alleged loans.’

Judge Otazo-Reyes in granting the amended application stated that it, ‘is not unduly intrusive or burdensome as the application requests evidence of the discovery targets.’

The judge also indicated that the discovery targets in Florida ‘will not be parties to the proceedings in Trinidad and are not expected to become parties thereto, thus the need for this discovery is more apparent.’

Meanwhile, the substantive hearing filed by the Attorney General for judicial assistance was expected to be heard late yesterday in a Miami court.

On September 3, Al-Rawi had told CCN they were doing ‘specific things’ in relation to the matter.

Documents referred to in this story and WhatsApp questions were sent at his request, but although he appeared to have read the messages, there was no response.

Follow-up calls to his phone over the last two weeks also went unanswered.

WhatsApp messages to Minister Young have also received no response.

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