Minister of National Security Stuart Young will write to United States Department of Justice, to seek a criminal investigation into a lease agreement for a Sikorsky S76D which has been in Trinidad and Tobago for the past five years but not in use.
The Aircraft has seen the Government subject to litigation by Vertical Aviation as a result.
In a press conference yesterday, the National Security Minister responded to claims by Opposition MP Dr Roodal Moonilal that the Government had been hiding the helicopter as he explained that National Security officials could not use the aircraft and it had not been flown from December 2015.
“Let me completely debunk any suggestion that there has been any action to hide this particular helicopter, certainly not under a PNM administration. The helicopter could not be flown from December 2015.,” said Young, “I personally have seen this helicopter at Camp Cumuto. The helicopter was not configured for use by our law enforcement or military personnel in Trinidad and Tobago. It is configured for executive use.”
Young explained that SSA first raised their concern about the costs incurred by the helicopter, which tallied $139,500 a month in addition to maintenance and insurance costs.
This prompted the SSA to seek legal advice when they deemed it made no sense to continue the arrangement.
Young explained that during the procurement process the right of sovereignty, which would have protected the Government from facing legal action in such contracts were waived and the contract gave the Government no option to terminate the lease early.
“The proposed terms agreed to contained a net lease clause – basically this prevented us, the people of Trinidad and Tobago, from terminating this lease arrangement. So in other words from the day you sign this lease arrangement for five years, you are then bound to pay the full cost of the lease arrangement and you cannot terminate the contract if you terminated it two months, three months later you were then bound to pay the full extent of this contract,” said Young who explained that this arrangement would have seen the government spend more than the actual cost of the helicopter which already was not in use.
Young confirmed that the Government was taken to court in New York by Vertical Aviation, the owners of the aircraft, and a settlement was agreed to the sum of USD$6.5 million. However one agreement of the settlement, the eventual return of the aircraft, at the cost of the Trinidad and Tobago government.
Young said with the COVID-19 pandemic, the return of the aircraft was not made a priority and the closure of various borders also provided challenges. The Government is currently engaged in another court matter in relation to the aircraft as a result.
However Young said the various red flags in the contract which lead to this point prompted his action.
“I intend to write to the department of justice as a representative of you the people of Trinidad and Tobago to ask them to commence a criminal investigation into the procurement of this contract. There are certain players who may have been involved in the procurement but it will also call upon Vertical to have to explain,” he said.