(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) — Former sport and youth affairs minister Darryl Smith is demanding that the government destroy all copies of the report into the payment of $150,000 to his former personal assistant after she was fired and alleged sexual harassment.
In a letter sent to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi on Friday, Smith’s attorney Annabelle Sooklal also accused Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley of giving the media misleading information and trying to diminish Smith’s claim of a breach of natural justice.
In a strongly-worded pre-action protocol letter obtained by the Sunday Guardian, Smith’s attorney alleged that it was now apparent that all the media houses in T&T had copies of letters between herself and the Officer of the Prime Minister, with at least one media house alleging to have a copy of the report.
In light of this and what Smith’s attorney deemed to be a fatally flawed report that has the potential to damage her client’s reputation, she is demanding that the Attorney General not only destroy copies of the report but take legal steps to prevent its publication.
She wrote: “All media houses appear to be in possession of copies of some of the correspondence in this matter and at least one daily newspaper (the Trinidad Express) has confirmed that it is in possession of the above report. I remind you that in both of my demand letters dated August 16, 2018, I sought your undertaking that all physical and electronic copies of the report would be forthwith destroyed to avoid exactly this eventuality.
“I remind you as well that from the inception I demanded the retraction of this irretrievably flawed report. Despite repeated requests from me, it is now apparent that you failed and/or refused to take the necessary steps to secure the report such that it has now fallen into the hands of the media along with copies of the correspondence between my office and the office of the Prime Minister.”
Sooklal said it was also apparent that although the AG had advice since 2018 from Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, he took “no or not sufficient steps to cause the retraction of the report, fuelling public suspicion and dissatisfaction and drawing negative comment much of which was directed at my client.”
This is not the first time that Smith’s lawyer called for the AG and the Government to destroy the three-member committee report.
In a letter dated August 23, 2018, Sooklal called for the destruction of the report. This predates the legal advice obtained from Mendes by the AG.
“In these circumstances, I call upon you to have your clients take immediate steps to retrieve all copies of the report, both print and electronic, and have the same destroyed,” Sooklal wrote to the AG.
She further demanded to know who had copies of the report.
She wrote: “I also expect to receive from you by 12 noon tomorrow Friday, August 24, 2018, a list of the names of persons to whom the report was disseminated and your confirmation that all copies have been retrieved and destroyed.”
According to sources, Smith’s team is now focusing on how the report was leaked to the media, since by the AG’s own admission very few people had access to it.
In fact, since 2018 Sooklal was alleging that Smith had information that the report was being leaked to the media.
She wrote: “Not surprisingly my client has now received credible information that the report or portions thereof have been provided to a certain media house which intends to publish same. If there is merit in my client’s complaints about the procedure followed by the committee, then you would agree with me that the report which is the product of such a grievously flawed process is likely unreliable and unsound. You would appreciate as well that publication of such a report or any part thereof has the potential to cause considerable damage to my client’s standing and reputation, for which your clients could be liable in damages.”
On Friday, Sooklal went further, calling on the AG to go to court to prevent the publication of the report, threatening legal action if it is not done.
“In the circumstances, I hereby call upon you to forthwith take the necessary steps to obtain undertakings or court orders to ensure that the report is not published in the press. Should you fail to do so, I shall advise my client of his right to pursue a claim in damages for the harm he has suffered as a consequence of these acts and omissions.”
Smith’s attorney also accused the Prime Minister of “serious inaccuracy” when he suggested that Smith knew about the contents of the report, which she rubbished as being untrue.
In her letter sent to the AG on Friday Sooklal wrote: “I address secondly the statement made by the Honourable Prime Minister at the post Cabinet media briefing yesterday (Thursday). As you are well aware my client was never provided with a copy of the above report, either by the permanent secretary or anyone else, as was repeatedly suggested at the media briefing. Indeed my client is still unaware of its contents, his only knowledge coming from the bits purportedly excerpted by the permanent secretary. This is a serious inaccuracy which must be corrected as a matter of urgency as it is being deployed to diminish my client’s claim that there was a breach of natural justice.”
AG—I haven’t seen a letter yet
Contacted late yesterday, and asked if he had received the letter from Smith’s attorney, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi claimed not to know.
Indicating he was at a charity event when he was contacted around 7 pm, Al-Rawi said, “I couldn’t tell you. I get like a thousand bits of correspondence.
“I haven’t seen a letter yet. Perhaps she delivered it…it’s at the ministry, but I couldn’t tell you.”
Pressed to say if he would quickly read the letter via WhatsApp and offer a comment, the AG begged off as he said, “I’m in the middle of a charity event serving food, it would be kind of difficult.”
No response from PM
Calls and texts to the PM’s cell phone yesterday went unanswered.
Smith was fired in April 2018 following claims levelled against him by his former personal assistant who accused him of sexual harassment and unfair dismissal.
A committee was appointed to review the circumstances surrounding the woman’s dismissal and payment of $150,000 in compensation.
Meanwhile, attorney Michael Quamina has denied ever advising Smith on anything to do with allegations of sexual harassment against the minister.
Quamina has said that his only interaction with Smith was to take instructions from him in relation to the dismissal of Carrie-Ann Moreau.
Quamina insisted he was retained by the Ministry of Sport and not Smith, to deal with the claim of wrongful dismissal against the ministry by Moreau.
He dismissed claims by the committee set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding Moreau’s firing and subsequent payment of $150,000 as a settlement, that he, Quamina, was involved in the issue well before it reached the stage of settlement.
Quamina said the committee’s findings of him were “entirely inaccurate and without substance” and he was not allowed to respond to the adverse findings before they were concluded as is demanded by law.
He said his only involvement was in dealing with two matters—the first was whether the dismissal was wrong in law and if so, what would be a reasonable settlement.