T&T Gov't seeking assistance in probing local link to Panama Papers

Friday, April 15, 2016

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) – The Trinidad and Tobago government Friday said that it is seeking the assistance of “investigative and prosecutorial agencies in and outside” of the country to probe “local issues” arising out of the Panama Papers.
The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The Trinidad Express newspaper, which said the head of its Investigative Desk, Camani Maharaj, is part of the ICIJ, on April 4 published an exclusive story in which it claimed that Ken Emirth, a member of the main opposition United National Congress (UNC) is linked to a bribery scandal in Brazil.
The paper reported that Emrith, a business consultant described as a former low-level party functionary of the UNC, allegedly used a Panamanian shell corporation to channel millions of US dollars to offshore bank accounts, including a one million US dollar consultancy fee from a convicted money launderer connected to the Petrobras bribery scandal in Brazil.
Attorney General Faris Al Rawi, speaking in the Parliament Friday, said that “as Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago I am under statute, the Central Authority with responsibility for mutual legal assistance to States who have treaties with Trinidad and Tobago”.
He told legislators that he is also the chair the National Anti-Money Laundering Inter Ministerial Committee.
“Trinidad and Tobago currently holds the position of the Chairman of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), an organization of 27 states of the Caribbean Basin, which have agreed to implement common counter-measures to address the problems of money laundering and the financing of terrorism and take all necessary steps to ensure the integrity of domestic and international financial systems.”
Al Rawi said that in November last year, during the CFATF Plenary held here, “I informed that anti-money laundering, anti-corruption and counter terrorist financing would be priority issues for action by this government.
“I informed that the focus would be not only include legislative amendments, but that it would also include operational efforts aimed at increasing the efficiency of detection and conviction for AML/CTF in Trinidad and Tobago.
“I am pleased to inform that the commitments given in November 2015 to CFATF are well in tow and that the local issues arising out of the Panama Papers are receiving active attention with particular focus on enabling the efforts of requisite lawful investigative and prosecutorial agencies in and outside of Trinidad and Tobago,” Al Rawi told legislators.

Al Rawi, quoting the Trinidad Express newspaper article as indicating that the leaked files provide valuable clues to Emrith’s business dealings through a Panamanian-registered shell vehicle named Pendrey Associates Corporation and his US million-dollar connection to Brazilian construction giant, Construtora OAS, which was contracted by the UNC led People’s Partnership administration in July 2011 to build a contentious and yet-to-be finished billion-dollar highway here.
He said that the Pendrey’s transaction trail details a complex web of shell corporations across borders, US million-dollar payments routed through the international financial system and a cast of convicted OAS construction executives and money launderers connected to Brazil’s largest-ever corruption scandal, which has battered the nation’s president, Dilma Rousseff, and threaten to ensnare another former president, Luis Inacio Lula de Silva, on suspicion of kickbacks related to a beachfront property.
“The MF files expose the connection between Emrith’s Panamanian offshore Pendrey Associates and key figures connected to the Petrobras bribery scandal, namely Joao Procopio, who was convicted of financial crimes, and Jose Luiz Pires, from the investment firm Queluz which had direct financial dealings with Swiss PKB Privatbank AG. Pires is the subject of a police probe,” he told legislators.
The Attorney General said that Emrith, had as late as 2015, contested a seat on the UNC executive and was employed by the state-owned National Infrastructure Development Company Limited (NIDCO) from November 2010 to August 2011.
Al Rawi said that in March 2011, the then People’s Partnership government, through NIDCO, awarded a design-build contract to the Brazilian firm Construtora OAS SA (OAS) for TT$5.2 billion (One TT dollar =US$0.16 cents) to build the highway.
He told legislators that original cost was TT$1.6 billion “more than the engineer’s estimate” and that “the estimated cost to complete the highway which is now estimated to be 49 per cent complete, is now in excess of TT$8 billion”.
He said that investigations have also shown that Emirth’s companies received in excess of six million TT dollars from NIDCO for work done and that he was also listed as a director of Pembury Consultants (Trinidad and Tobago) Limited when “this company was employed by OAS as a ‘Consultant’ on NIDCO’s Highway project for a monthly payment of $44,800”.
Al rawi said that payments to Pembury from OAS “seem to have started at a time when Ken Emrith was still employed at NIDCO.
“From the findings at hand, OAS paid Pembury at least TT$896,000 up to May 2013. Subsequent payments have not yet been traced," he told legislators.

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