Lead Editor, Investigative Desk
Princes Town MP Barry Padarath says he cannot recall why he issued two First Citizens bank cheques totalling TT$135,800 in October 2014 to then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bisssessar while he was her special advisor. The cheques now form part of evidence collected by the T&T Police Service in a case involving the MP and a female relative.
Guardian Media obtained copies of the cheques, detailed cabinet notes and other financial information which we were reliably informed are at the centre of the police probe. Officers have obtained several legal orders over the last few months to peruse several bank accounts in the ongoing case, after alleged suspicious activities related to the MP’s relative were first flagged by the Financial Intelligence Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (FIUTT).
During a walkabout in the Buen Intento housing community in Princes Town on Wednesday, Guardian Media questioned Padarath about the payments made to Persad-Bissessar and if he remembered what they were for.
“I have no recollection for what this would have been for. It is, in fact, legitimate I can tell you that if it is, in fact, legitimate cheques, I cannot recollect this was in 2014 but it would have been totally above board,” Padarath said.
The source of the money and payments are only part of a wider police investigation into a company which is linked to Padarath’s relative.
Documents show that Padarath deposited close to $703,000 from his RBC Financial (Caribbean) Bank account on March 7, 2016, to the relative’s account, also at the same bank, via an account to account transfer of the funds. The complex financial trail then points to the relative setting up several other bank accounts, including two chequing accounts for her company.
According to the financial information obtained over the years, Padarath allegedly made several cheque payments to the relative amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars and, in some cases, she transferred these funds into insurance policies and to her company.
Investigators found that the relative’s company was first registered on January 28, 2011, and had the address of #20 Green Heart Drive, Couva North, Couva, which was the home address of both Padarath and the relative in question.
Documentation also revealed that for the period January 15, 2014-January 26, 2017, the sum of $162,500 was allegedly paid to Padarath via cheques from the relative’s company. There were three cheques for $50,000, $10,000 and $2,500 during that period, all paid on different dates for the three-year period.
When questioned about this payment, Padarath smiled and said, “My only comment to you is that I am an only child and if you look at the date of those cheques, it was my birthday and I am totally above board and there is a clear attempt to sully my name and I am not concerned one bit or the other.”
A money trail tracked by authorities revealed that during the period 2013-2018, just over $15 million passed through the accounts of the relative’s company. Incidentally, under the People’s Partnership government, the company obtained contracts from the Education Facilities Company Limited (EFCL) and Palo Seco Agricultural Enterprises Limited (PSAEL) in the sum of $3.2 million between the period 2012-2015.
Documents obtained by investigators revealed that the relative’s company secured nine contracts through the PSAEL during the period April 2012-2015. Investigators found that four of the nine contracts were awarded to the company through a merit award system. They also discovered that in January 2011, Rentokil Initial (Trinidad) Limited tendered a bid to furnish, install and service soap dispensers at Petrotrin offices in Pointe-a-Pierre after there was an invitation to tender by PSAEL. They discovered that the contract was granted to the relative’s company, “notwithstanding Rentokil Initial (Trinidad) Limited, which has the ability to perform a similar task, tendered a much lower quote.”
Investigators also noted, “There were two instances where based on the tendering process selection using the lowest bidder criteria, the service providers recommended were not awarded the contract.”
Investigators added that Padarath’s relative’s company was awarded the contract by the Finance and Tenders Committee notwithstanding the fact the bid tendered was doubled the amount quoted by the other service providers.
The EFCL also awarded at least 20 contracts to the relative’s company between September 2011 to September 2014. In some instances, investigators say they were unable to say if work was done on some of the schools that the company was given the contract for and stated that “at least five projects in one way or the other does not contain the relevant payment information.”
Guardian Media also asked Padarath about a $703,000 payment made to his relative’s account and the ongoing police investigation into his salary when he was the PM’s aide and the inconsistencies in amounts deposited over the period of 2013-2017 into his personal account.
Padarath gave the following explanation, “As I served as an aide, my role and responsibility are to deal with contingency when the prime minister travels. Every prime minister is provided with a per diem when you travel and placed in a cheque in your name. That is where those sums would have come from.”
Padarath added, “Separate and apart from that, you have to account when the cabinet releases funds to someone holding a contingency. It is not a matter you get free money to spend, you have to reconcile accounts when you return to the country and the Office of the Prime Minister should have every piece of documentation where those accounts are reconciled.
“When I left the Office of the Prime Minister, every travel that I accompanied Mrs Persad-Bissessar on was reconciled with an accounting officer who went item by item, list by list, document by document, bill by bill, to ensure those sums were accounted for. As I said, my hands are clean. I am not bothered by PNM machinations and investigations.”
However, Guardian Media obtained the cabinet notes for the period 2013-2015, where investigators perused all authorised travel for Padarath, which included the amounts for travel and the vote from which the money was to be taken. They found that there was no variance to the amounts disbursed as approved by the cabinet to be paid.
The investigators concluded that the documents “provided by the Office of the Prime Minister was done and it revealed that there were a number of variances in respect to the amounts paid to Barry Padarath when compared to the amounts as were approved in the cabinet notes.”
Investigators alleged Padarath “earned way in excess of his eligible remuneration during his tenure as the personal aide to the prime minister.”
When questioned about the variances as pointed out by the police, Padarath shot back stating, “That will be an issue that will have to be dealt with by the authorities in terms of cross-checking with the Office of the Prime Minister, but as I indicated when I left the Office of the prime minister every single travel was accounted for.”
Asked if he would be willing to cooperate if the authorities approached him, Padarath said, “These matters are in the hands of my attorneys and it will be dealt with by my attorneys, I am not saying anything further. Let them do their homework.”