(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) — The State’s co-operating witness in the ongoing corruption investigation into former attorney general Anand Ramlogan, SC, and Opposition Senator Gerald Ramdeen has struck a deal over his role in the legal fees kickback scam.
The plea bargain agreement for Jamaican-born British Queen’s Counsel Vincent Nelson was revealed by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, when he made a rare court appearance in the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court as Nelson was hit with three conspiracy charges yesterday.
Gaspard explained that the 61-year-old had struck a deal under the Criminal Procedure (Plea Discussion and Plea Agreement) Act 2017, which was proclaimed on January 2. He revealed that under the agreement, Nelson agreed to plead guilty to the charges and testify against his co-accused, who are yet to be charged. Gaspard did not reveal any further terms of the agreement, including the proposed sentence Nelson would face.
Under the legislation, after an agreement is struck a preliminary inquiry into the charges is bypassed and the case is transferred to the High Court for a plea hearing assessment before a judge. The transfer must occur within 14 days and when it does, a date for the assessment will be set within another 14-day period.
Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle-Caddle agreed to expedite the process by endeavouring to perform the transfer before the end of the week.
Nelson arrived at the courthouse shortly after 11 am and was taken inside by officers of the Anti-Corruption Investigation Bureau (ACIB) through a basement entrance reserved for magistrates and senior court staff.
Dressed in a grey suit without a tie, Nelson stood silently in the prisoner enclosure of the court with his hands clasped behind his back for most of the hearing and only spoke to confirm his name.
Nelson was accused of conspiring with Ramlogan and Ramdeen to receive, conceal and transfer criminal property, namely the rewards given to Ramlogan by Nelson for being appointed to represent the State in several cases; of conspiring with them to corruptly give Ramlogan some of the funds and of conspiring with them to make Ramlogan misbehave in public office by receiving some of the funds.
The offences are alleged to have occurred on diverse dates between October 1, 2010 and September 9, 2015, although Ramlogan’s term was between May 2010 and February 2015.
The charges that were read in court by Busby-Earle-Caddle did not reveal the percentage of the legal fees he received from the Office of the Attorney General that was allegedly subsequently transferred to Ramlogan.
In applying for bail for Nelson, his lawyer Tom Allen, QC, stated that bail without a surety (not using the deed of a property as security) was an expressed provision of the deal. “He came on his own volition and he would come again on his own volition,” Allen said.
Allen also repeatedly said Nelson had to be allowed to leave the country as he had considerable concerns over his safety.
“He would be safe abroad and there is a serious risk if he remains in this jurisdiction. The risk is more real if he is remanded into custody,” Allen said.
Allen also claimed his client was not at risk of absconding from the case, as he had repeatedly returned to T&T to hold discussions with State prosecutors since he first gave a statement to police in June 2017.
“He has engaged in what can be described as an unprecedented act of co-operation with the prosecution,” Allen said.
He also mentioned that his client is required to consult with his doctors regularly since he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“The cancer is in remission but he still has to see his doctors,” he said.
Gaspard had no objection to bail for Nelson, except that he be required to pay a $100,000 cash bond. However, after Gaspard admitted that he did not investigate the source of Nelson’s funds, which he intended to use as security, Busby-Earle-Caddle agreed to grant him his own bail.
Nelson is also being represented by Keith Scotland.
About Vincent Nelson, QC
Born in Jamaica, Nelson was called to the bar in the United Kingdom in 1980 and took silk in 2001.
In August 2010, Nelson was appointed to a five-member team selected by former attorney general Anand Ramlogan to investigate alleged impropriety on State boards during the Patrick Manning administration.
The agencies that were investigated included the University of T&T (UTT), Petrotrin, the Sport Company of T&T (SporTT) and the Evolving Technologies and Enterprise Development Company Ltd (eTeck). He also represented the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) at the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas housing development and the Ministry of Finance during the Commission of Enquiry into CL Financial.
The investigative team was initially touted as having as its mandate the investigation of criminal wrongdoing but their work eventually led to civil proceedings being filed against former board members.
Nelson, 61, also worked in a $2 billion lawsuit against former Petrotrin executive president Malcolm Jones and other board members over a failed Gas-to-Liquids plant at the now-defunct company’s refinery operation in Pointe-a-Pierre.
The company claimed the board members had breached their fiduciary duty in the $2.7 billion deal for the plant, which was supposed to convert natural gas into a more ozone-friendly liquified form of diesel. Although it was eventually completed, it remained non-functional due to lack of appropriate technology and was deemed scrap iron. Petrotrin initiated arbitration proceedings against the plant’s former owner, which it eventually won.
In early 2016, Nelson advised the then board that the case had to be withdrawn as documents from the arbitration, which Jones’ legal team sought, showed that the deal was a bad business decision and not negligence.
Nelson’s written advice to the board was released by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi amid allegations that it was politically motivated. Al-Rawi also told Parliament in 2016 that Nelson had submitted bills to the Office of the Attorney General worth more than $55 million.