By Ken Chee Hing Newsday
This country's most sensational corruption investigation climaxed yesterday when six top public officials, including a millionaire businessman and two former government ministers were slapped with 45 fraud charges, arising out of a probe into the awarding of contracts in the construction of the $1.6 billion Piarco International Airport.
Former Finance Minister Brian Kuei Tung; his companion Renee Pierre; former National Security Minister Russell Orlando Huggins; millionaire businessman and UNC financier Ishwar Galbaransingh and Chief Corporate Secretary of Northern Construction Limited Amrith Maharaj, surrendered with their attorneys to officers of the elite Anti Corruption Investigations Bureau (ACIB), housed in the Caribbean Court of Justice building on Richmond Street.
The sixth person - John Henry Smith, CEO of Maritime Group of Companies - was arrested by ACIB officers yesterday around 10.30 am at his Haleland Park, Maraval home.
They appeared before Justice of the Peace Ackbar Khan and were granted bail in the sum of $10.6 million to cover the 45 criminal charges. They will appear before a Port-of-Spain Magistrate on Monday.
The two-year long investigation was spearheaded by head of ACIB, Supt Maurice Piggott with assistance from Canadian Forensic Accountants Bob Lindquist and Hans Marschdorf.
Charges in the Piarco Airport probe have been expected for the last several weeks and on Friday night, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mark Mohammed SC, having received from the ACIB the results of the probe, directed that charges be laid.
The drama on Richmond Street which lasted the entire day, began at approximately 10 am when ACIB officers brought in Smith. Minutes later Huggins surrendered with his lawyer Vernon De Lima. He was followed by Galbaransingh, Maharaj, Kuei Tung and Pierre.
The surrender was witnessed by a huge assembly of reporters and photographers, who gathered on Richmond Street next door to the Sacred Heart Boys School and Church.
The media waited for hours in the hot sun as the six persons were formally charged and granted bail.
As Kuei Tung was entering the building accompanied by his girlfriend Renee Pierre he muttered to the media, "is politics, is politics...this is political victimisation." Yesterday was Kuei Tung's 56th birthday.
The media was also informed that Smith recently underwent heart surgery and was fitted with a pacemaker.
Galbaransingh was granted $3M; Kuei Tung was granted $1.6M bail; Huggins got $1.6M bail; Smith got $2M bail; Pierre received $800,000 bail and Maharaj was granted $1.6M bail.
Kuei Tung, Pierre, Galbaransingh, Maharaj and Smith were jointly charged with conspiracy to defraud the Trinidad and Tobago Government of $7 million.
Galbaransingh was slapped with eight; Huggins got seven; Smith got eight; Kuei Tung, got ten; Pierre got four and Maharaj eight.
The 45 charges were laid for offences allegedly committed between the period 1996 to 2000. Charges ranged from misbehaviour in public office to corruption and money laundering. The ACIB was formalised on January 28, 2002.
On Friday, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mark Mohammed SC, after holding a week of discussions with the ACIB, Lindquist and a team of specially selected attorneys from the DPP office, directed that 45 criminal charges be laid against the six persons and two companies, namely Northern Construction Ltd (owned by Galbaransingh) and Fidelity Finance and Leasing Company, a subsidiary of Maritime Group of Companies.
The ACIB was set up by former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj while in office and launched the investigations into the Piarco development project following serious allegations of corruption made in the House of Representatives by the then PNM Opposition.
Maharaj hired the services of Canadian Forensic Accountants Bob Lindquist, who in his interim report declared that the Piarco development was a fruad on the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and a clear abuse of public funds.
The interim report said its findings were consistent with a conspiracy to corrupt the contract selection process beginning in 1996 and carried out until 2000.
"It was a very complex investigation that required countless hours of work. I am very proud of my officers and would like to publicly state, that if it wasn't for their efforts, the investigations would have been harder to complete and would have taken longer," stated a tired-looking Supt Maurice Piggott, as he spoke to the media yesterday.
Piggott also said the investigations were not yet closed. "No, no the investigation were not yet over," he said.
Galbaransingh and Maharaj were represented by a battery of lawyers including UNC MP for Point-a-Pierre Gillian Lucky, Desmond Allum SC and Sophia Chote.
Huggins and Smith were represented by Vernon De Lima and David Patrick, while Kuei Tung and Pierre were represented by attorney Joseph Pantor.
BRIAN KUEI TUNG, fmr Finance Minister - (4 counts) misbehaviour in public office; (5 counts) corruption; (1 count) conspiracy to defraud the TT Govt of $7M - Total charges: 10
Granted $1.6M bail
RUSSEL ORLANDO HUGGINS, fmr National Security Minister - (2 counts) corruption; (3 counts) aiding and abetting to commit misbehaviour in public office; (1 count) misbehaviour in public office; (1 count) money laundering - Total charges: 7
Granted $1.6M bail
ISHWAR GALBARANSINGH, millionaire businessman and UNC financier -
(1 count) money laundering; (2 counts) corruption; (4 counts) aiding and abetting to commit misbehaviour in public office; (1 count) conspiracy to defraud TT Govt of $7M - Total charges: 8
Granted $3M bail
JOHN HENRY SMITH, CEO Maritime Group of Companies - (3 counts) aiding and abetting to commit misbehaviour in public office; (2 counts) corruption; (1 count) conspiracy to defraud TT Govt of $7M; (1 count) misbehaviour in public office; (1 count) money laundering - Total charges: 8
Granted $2M bail
RENEE PIERRE, companion of Brian Kuei Tung - (1 count) aiding and abetting to commit misbehaviour in public office; (1 count) conspiracy to defraud TT Government of $7M; (2 counts) corruption - Total charges: 4
Granted $800,000 bail
AMRITH MAHARAJ, Chief Corporate Secretary Northern Construction -
(4 counts) aiding and abetting Brian Kuei Tung to commit misbehaviour in public office; (1 count) money laundering; (2 counts) corruption; (1 count) conspiracy to defraud TT Govt of $7M - Total charges: 8
Granted $1.6M bail
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