On 11 January 2021 David Phillips QC appeared before the Court of Appeal in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, in the latest round of the hard-fought Contractors’ Conspiracy claims. David had successfully resisted the Contractors’ strike-out and related applications, Mr Justice Aboud having handed down a 122 page judgment in August 2020.
Amongst the many grounds of appeal the Contractors challenged the adequacy of the pleaded case on unlawful means conspiracy, and boldly challenged the existence of the tort of an unlawful means conspiracy in Trinidad & Tobago. Further written submissions are to be filed within the next month, after which a reserved judgment will be delivered.
A report by the Trinidad Guardian reads as follows:
Lawyers representing the State-owned Estate Management and Business Development Company Ltd (EMBD) have admitted to facing difficulties in investigating alleged bid-rigging in a series of contracts awarded to a group of contractors in the run-up to the 2015 general election.
EMBD’s lawyers made the admission while responding to submissions in an appeal over the decision of a High Court Judge to refuse to dismiss the multi-million dollar cartel claim against the contractors because of a lack of details on the allegations against them.
Addressing Appellate Judges Mira Dean-Armourer and Ronnie Boodoosingh during a virtual hearing yesterday, British Queen’s Counsel David Phillips claimed that it did not make sense for his client to commission expensive forensic reports until the preliminary legal issues were resolved.
“We have been the victim of a calculated and sophisticated conspiracy…A sophisticated conspirator leaves no trace,” Phillips said.
He claimed that former High Court Judge James Aboud, who has since been elevated to the Court of Appeal, was not plainly wrong for allowing the case to proceed based on preliminary filings as it could still be dismissed when all the evidence and submissions are being considered.
“He (Aboud) was not saying that the case would succeed at trial. He was saying the case could succeed at trial,” Phillips said.
However, Phillips stood by the strength of his client’s case presented thus far.
“There is powerful evidence of concerted wrongdoing,” he said.
Presenting submissions on behalf of the contractors, Senior Counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj claimed that the State company had to provide particulars that it suffered pecuniary losses through his clients’ alleged conduct, in order to pursue the unlawful means conspiracy lawsuit against them.
Maharaj claimed that the alleged deficiencies in the case as pleaded proved that EMBD did not conduct a proper and thorough investigation before initiating it.
He also suggested that the requested information was vital as each of their clients had to submit defences to individual allegations leveled against them.
A status hearing of the case is set for February 25 as EMBD’s legal team requested time to file a response to last-minute new submissions brought by the contractors.
In that hearing, the Appeal Court is expected to deal with an appeal brought by EMBD over the deadlines for the filing of evidence and submissions set by Aboud.
The lawsuit centres around 12 contracts for the rehabilitation of roads and infrastructure, which were granted to five contractors before the September 2015 general election.
Contractors TN Ramnauth, Mootilal Ramhit and Sons Contracting Ltd (Ramhit) and Kall Company Ltd (Kallco) initiated the proceedings against the State-owned special purpose company for the almost $200 million balance owned on their respective contracts.
The EMBD countersued the contractors claiming that they as well as contractors Fides and Namalco conspired together with former Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, former EMBD CEO Gary Parmassar, former divisional manager Madhoo Balroop and engineer Andrew Walker to corruptly obtain the contracts.
It also claimed that the parties agreed to facilitate the contractors receiving preliminary payments for the work which was allegedly overpriced and substandard and utilised a loan, meant to pay for other legitimate contracts, to make interim payments to the contractors.
Through the lawsuit, the EMBD is seeking a series of declarations against the parties including one on the illegality of the contracts.
Contractors TN Ramnauth, Mootilal Ramhit and Sons Contracting Ltd (Ramhit) and Kall Company Ltd (Kallco) are also being represented by Jagdeo Singh, Kiel Taklalsingh, and Karina Singh. Namalco was represented by Roger Kawalsigh.
Anand Ramlogan, SC, Alvin Pariagsingh, and Ganesh Saroop represented Moonilal, who did not join in either the application to strike out the case or the corresponding appeal. Walker was represented by Jayanti Lutchmedial.
EMBD is also being represented by Jason Mootoo and Savitri Sookraj-Beharry.