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Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi

Big matters currently under probe – involving money laundering, misbehaviour in public office, racketeering, serious fraud and the anti-terrorism world – would be at risk of collapse if Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi publicly gives the names of attorneys working on these matters.

Al-Rawi indicated that yesterday after Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein, from the opposition, unsuccessfully sought names of local and foreign attorneys paid by the State and details of matters for which they’re retained. This was at Monday’s public Standing Finance Committee meeting.

The Attorney General said he wouldn’t disclose information on those who worked for the State especially in criminal matters, on Justice Department issues and mutual assistance with other places.

Yesterday Al-Rawi deemed “misleading”, the Express’ headline on the matter stating he refused to give the information that Hosein sought.

Al- Rawi pointed out he’d actually gotten a request in June 2020 from attorneys for Express editor Omatie Lyder for similar information under the Freedom of Information (FOIA) law and his office supplied it.

He said Samantha Singh Poona who requested the same information under the FOIA for Chan Rampersad, was also supplied. Al-Rawi noted Poona was also listed in Elections and Boundaries Commission documents as one of Hosein’s election agents.

He said information to Lyder and Poona listed attorneys and entities retained by the ministry and included breakdowns of the annual expenditure. The information stated the ministry sought the approval of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, governments and international agencies with which the ministry is liaising on matters.

He said the ministry wrote all attorneys informing them of the requests for disclosure of their fees.

The AG said the ministry will use Section 35 of the FOIA on the matter – balancing the public interest against private information interest.

Al-Rawi cited sums spent by the ministry over 2010 to 2015 – $444, 444 and $197 million, plus an outstanding debt of $141.3 million. From 2015 to date the ministry spent $387.9 million.

Out of this, payments to the DPP’s office and towards the $141 million arrears were made.

Payments were also made on matters under criminal probe, forensic audits into surveying, expert analysis and on anti-terrorism matters. They include cross-jurisdictional matters with the UK, Dutch, US, French and other governments.

Al-Rawi said the ministry would not be able to share information on certain sensitive matters since it’s guided by law against premature disclosures on matters regarding the Proceeds of Crime and Unexplained Wealth laws, certain drug trafficking matters, money laundering, serious fraud, matters concerning the prison, cases of certain high risk and anti-terrorism matters.

He also noted several sensitive matters which he detailed aren’t even completed.

Senior Counsel Fyad Hosein also said the ministry must be very careful in disclosing information prematurely to prevent aspects being thrown out due to pre-trial publicity and disclosures. There have also been recommendations on some cases from international agencies and governments.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General accused MP Hosein of ‘playing smart with foolishness’ as he was aware of the answer to his query as his own election agent sought it before.

He said contrary to Express’ headline there has been no refusal but a disclosure process was being taken to ensure sensitive criminal and investigative matters aren’t affected.

“There’s a lot of interest of people asking the ministry what appears to be innocuous questions which can have disastrous consequences as premature disclosure will cause collapse of the cases in jurisdictions here and overseas.’’

Al-Rawi added, “I’d love for probes to be completed but I can’t be the poster child for throwing out cases because of tripping on rules from international governments, crime agencies or DPP’s office. The DPP warned Government to say as little as possible .”

He admitted feeling deeply frustrated by the length of time some cases are taking when he said nothing in his office was languishing.

Sensitive matters

*Very advanced state of prosecution in a non-Commonwealth country of large scale probe involving cross-jurisdictional bribery claims in Trinidad and Tobago. A matter of concern to several other Caribbean islands also, it involved the DPP’s office

* Now on the cusp of trial, Piarco airport civil proceedings started in the US in 2002, no work done over 2010-2015 and currently in the middle of a civil trial involving an initial US$105 million in damages under Florida racketeering law. The DPP has a step to take on this involving indictment.

* Money laundering, serious fraud charges and misbehaviour in public office matter started several years ago. The DPP’s yet to file an indictment but it’s a live matter before the courts – and there’s a lot concern about disclosures being sought at present.

* The Clico probe which requires $33 million more in funding – in addition to $181 million already spent since 2016 when the Colman Enquiry report was submitted to the DPP. Al-Rawi recused himself from the probe since he held a Clico Investment Bank directorship several years ago. There was no negative commentary on his position

* “Extremely big corruption claim involving cross-jurisdictional investigations and litigation in T&T courts. It’s in the hands of TTPS, DPP, National Crime Agency of UK and other overseas agencies “

* Criminal probe by DPP on serious fraud over 2010-2015 when work began in 2014.

*Another matter before the DPP since 2014.