By RIA TAITT, www.newsday.co.tt
A Florida court has frozen the assets of former minister, Brian Kuei Tung, who is one of the persons charged in the Piarco Airport corruption case. High level Government sources yesterday confirmed reports carried in all the Miami newspapers that Floridaís 11th Judicial Circuit Court, (in and For Miami-Dade County, Florida) acceded to the request of the Trinidad and Tobago Government to freeze three South Florida properties owned by Kuei Tung.
The properties are a condo in Aventura worth about US $1.3 million, a Fort Lauderdale house valued at US$1 million and a house in Pinecrest. Aventura and Pinecrest are wealthy suburbs of Miami. The Miami newspapers stated that the court froze the assets "to see if they were bought with proceeds from alleged corruption involving Trinidadís new international airport." The matter, which was heard last Friday, was filed by US lawyer, Edward H Davis Jr, who has been retained by the Government to pursue aspects of the case outside of Trinidad. The petitioner was the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago on behalf of the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago and NIPDEC, while the respondents were Brian Kuei Tung, (his daughters) Sonja Kuei Tung, Brigid Duncan and Angentum International Marketing Services, a Panamanian Company. Angen-tumís business address, however, is in Miami.
Davis was quoted as saying: "This case is of the highest importance in Trinidad and the Attorney General (John Jeremie) is taking all appropriate steps to obtain the return of the proceeds of the (alleged) fraud." The Trinidad and Tobago Governmentís request to the US court is in conformity with the doctrine of international comity. Jeremie, responding to questions yesterday on the issue, stated that the orders were necessary in order to preserve the jurisdiction of the local courts to finally adjudicate on the substantive issues. "A careful watch is being maintained with respect to all suspect assets," he said. "And any attempt to dissipate them in frustration of the local courts shall be met with swift and decisive action," he added. Jeremie stressed that he was monitoring the situation to ensure that the Stateís interests were fully protected.
The action in Miami followed a similar injunction granted in Trinidad last Thursday which restrains Kuei Tung from "removing from Trinidad and Tobago any of his assets which are in Trinidad and Tobago whether in his own name or not, and or whether solely owned by him or jointly with any other person(s)." It also restrains him from "disposing of, dealing with or diminshing the value of any of his assets whether they are in or outside of Trinidad and Tobago whether in his name or not and whether solely owned by him or jointly with any other person(s)." Kuei Tung is one of ten persons charged with conspiracy and fraud under the Larceny Act.
The Government is currently seeking to extradite three people named in the charges - two from Birk Hillman Consultants Inc, the company hired to design the airport project, and one from Calmaquip Engineering, which was also hired to work on the project. All three live in Florida. The State is alleging that during construction of the airport, there was a $144 million conspiracy in which bribes and gifts were exchanged among 13 persons and four companies cited in the charges. The charges all arise out of a Commission of Inquiry into the airport project which lasted for one year under the chairmanship of former Chief Justice Clinton Bernard.
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