As a probe into the former Udecott chairman quietly intensified, the police closed-in on crucial bank records which could be key in unravelling a web of issues surrounding Udecott’s $1.1 billion Brian Lara Cricket Academy at Tarouba.
Sunday Newsday understands the court orders were obtained by the police after an ex parte application was lodged by the DPP under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Last Tuesday, officers were able to serve the court orders — sometimes referred to as production orders — calling on banking officials to make available records pertaining to Hart after the DPP invoked Section 9 of the Act.
The application was granted by a judge who sat in chambers and reviewed affidavit evidence submitted by the DPP on behalf of the police in relation to their quietly ongoing probe.
Applications to the High Court lodged under Section 9 are treated with utmost secrecy.
While such applications are initially supported by written affidavit evidence, all records of the application are normally removed from the precincts of the court by police once an order is granted.
The serving of court orders marks the continuation of a painstaking and multi-faceted investigation which — in the face of much public query over its status — continues to pursue several strands of inquiry revolving around different Udecott projects and different issues touched upon by the Report of the Uff Commission of Inquiry.
It is understood that the investigation into Hart and Udecott is not limited to the $368M Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower project, which has been the focus of much attention because of reports of a family link between Hart’s wife Sherrine and the Malaysian firm that was awarded the contract, Sunway.
While police have focused on that aspect of the investigation, it is understood that the bulk of their resources are concentrating on the Tarouba project as well as other issues.
In relation to Tarouba, several aspects of the project have caused considerable query, including: the award of contract packages, the issuing of bonds as well as payment certificates. It is understood that the investigations have been unaffected by the death of Hafeez Karamath, the founder of the project’s main contractor Hafeez Karamath Limited.
The latest move, which is expected to allow investigators to carefully sift through Hart’s personal finances, is part of a larger process of ongoing queries.
As the police this week closed-in on Hart’s bank records, a Sunday Newsday review of the former Udecott chairman’s filings with the Integrity Commission revealed several bank accounts with ties to Hart and his wife Sherrine.
For the year 2003, the year in which he declared membership of the PNM on his Integrity Commission declaration form, Hart declared earning interest from one bank: Republic Bank Limited.
As the years went by, and as he was appointed to more and more posts on different State entities under the Patrick Manning administration, Hart declared more bank holdings.
From the year 2004 right up to 2008, in addition to holdings at Republic Bank, Hart also declared income from interest earned at RBTT Limited. In the year 2005, Hart also began to declare an account at CIBC, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
By 2008, Hart declared earning interest from holdings at: Republic Bank, RBTT Bank Limited, RBTT Trust, CIBC (Canada) and the Unit Trust Corporation Trinidad and Tobago Limited (which is not a bank, but a statutory financial institution). Throughout 2003 to 2008, Hart also declared interest from holdings at the Home Mortgage Bank (HMB), which he once chaired.
Sunday Newsday has also learnt that notwithstanding the provisions of the Integrity in Public Life Act, Hart has failed to file any declaration of his assets and income for the year of 2009.
He resigned as executive chairman of Udecott in April 2010, about a month shy of the deadline for him to file his declarations for 2009.
It is understood that, notwithstanding his resignation, there still remains an obligation on Hart, as a holder of public office in the year 2009, to file a declaration.
It was just before 2009, in December 2008, that Hart was appointed by the Manning Cabinet to chair the Home Mortgage Bank. At the time he also chaired Udecott, the National Insurance Board and the Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company.
During his tenure as Udecott chairman, Hart several times declared receiving unspecified “benefits in kind” from Udecott to the Integrity Commission. Though he owned his own house — obtained from the HMB at bargain rates — he also declared receiving a housing allowance from Udecott. He also declared receiving “entertainment and other allowances” from Udecott for the year 2007.
On the eve of a start of the police investigation into Udecott, as ordered by DPP Roger Gaspard last year, Hart resigned as Udecott executive chairman and left the country. He has maintained a low profile since, amidst uncertainties over his whereabouts.
One Opposition MP — Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert, a former Cabinet member under Manning — has even said that he knows Hart’s whereabouts. During debate of the Interception of Communications Act on November 26, 2010, Imbert engaged in cross-talk with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar over the issue of Hart’s whereabouts.
“I think he is wanted and cannot be found. That is what I believe,” Persad-Bissessar said in the exchange. Imbert replied, “He is in Fort Lauderdale.” Persad-Bissessar replied, “You know where? If you know where, why do you not tell the police?” Imbert replied, “That is what Tom said.”
“Member for Diego Martin North/East is telling us he is in Fort Lauderdale. I will encourage him to give the information to the police because I think they are looking for him,” the Prime Minister said. Imbert responded, “The DPP has it.”
Asked by reporters this week for a status update on the investigation into Udecott and other state enterprises, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said, “The Attorney General possesses no investigative powers. In law it is only the Police Service that can conduct investigations and it is only the DPP who can charge. I am not in a position to answer these questions.”