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American fraud accused offers to surrender

By Gail Alexander,

US citizen Raoul Gutierrez, against whom the State has laid fraud charges in connection with the estimated $1.6 billion Piarco Airport development project, has offered to surrender, a source confirmed yesterday.

Fraud charges have been laid against Gutierrez, as well as Americans Ronald Birk and Eduardo Hillman, who were the principal advisers on the construction of the new airport terminal under their firm Birk Hillman Consultants.

Twelve people, including former government ministers and UNC financiers, and five companies are charged with alleged fraud arising out of the project.

The State claims between $144 million to $148 million had been fraudulently obtained by those charged.

Gutierrez is alleged to have been the beneficiary of the following payments—$43 million, $536 million and $455.15 million.

The transactions are alleged to include businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson who are also on fraud charges.

All three payments were made to bank accounts and services in Nassau, Bahamas.

Birk and Hillman are alleged to have been the recipients and beneficiaries of payments in four instances.

These payments amount to an estimated $28 million.

Warrants have been issued in T&T for the three.

But since T&T does not have jurisdiction to arrest them in the US, they are being sought via extradition orders. The government began the extradition process a couple weeks ago.

This week, the source said, Gutierrez’s lawyers in Florida made the offer for his surrender to the firm of Edward H Davis.

Davis’ law firm is acting for the T&T government on the fraud matter in Florida.

The attorneys won judgement last Friday from the Florida 11th Circuit Court, which approved the government’s request to freeze Florida properties belonging to Brian Kuei Tung and Ferguson.

“Gutierrez offered to surrender rather than be extradited,” the source added.

However, it is uncertain if the State will accept Gutierrez’s offer.

“There are of course, terms and conditions attached to the entire thing. The State is in talks with the US Justice Department on the issue. But there has been no decision on whether government will accept his offer to surrender or proceed to have him extradited still,” said the source.

Meanwhile, there has been no information about Birk and Hillman. Their Florida office has been closed for some time. However, a recording machine there is still in operation.

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