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T&T finance minister denies misconduct in buying TCL shares

Published:Sunday | December 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Trinidad Cement Limited plant at Claxton Bay, Trinidad. - File

Trinidad Finance and Economy Minister Larry Howai has denied any improper involvement in the purchase of shares in Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) 10 years ago and said that he has instructed his lawyers "to examine all aspects of this matter to address clearly what appears to be an injustice to my character and professional persona".

Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar also said she is satisfied with the response given to her by her embattled finance minister after the media there began reporting on the issue last week.

The allegations involve the role played by TCL executives in 2002 when the cement producer was the subject of an unsuccessful takeover bid by the Mexican cement giant, Cemex.

Bowai's statement

"May I state that I have never indulged, and never will engage in any form of inappropriate, far worse, dishonest or illegal conduct at any stage of my professional life. I regard all of this to be a sad though unavoidable use of our time and attention," Howai said in a statement

The finance minister said the matter "involved a number of persons and was brought to a close by the SEC (Security and Exchange Commission) in 2008, with no claims of infringements on my part".

Howai said while he had initially opted to keep quiet on the reappearance of that matter which "had been fully cleared up to everyone's satisfaction", he felt the timing of the issue being raised in the public domain was of some concern.

"Up to this time, I have neither seen the report referred to in the media nor have I been given an opportunity to address the allegations said to be contained therein. To have such spurious assertions circulated in this manner is certainly a breach of natural justice.

Resurfacing report

"It is extremely irregular and questionable that a confidential report on an issue that arose and was properly adjudged to have been a non-matter 10 years ago would be resurrected in the public domain for what can only be deemed as purposes of mischief and even malice," Howai said.

"If indeed this confidential report was leaked, that in itself may constitute an unlawful act, and as such, should be thoroughly investigated," he said.

In a 2011 statement signed by former SEC chairman, Osborne Nurse, the commission said the investigation found "considerable evidence of unacceptable market conduct" in the two trades of TCL shares six years ago.

"As a result, the commission has accepted the advice and recommendations of its legal counsel and has decided to close the matter," the SEC said.

While evidence "clearly demonstrated behaviours that were unacceptable and violated the intent of the law", the SEC said it was not enough to meet the test of the act.

Persad Bissessar said she had spoken to Howai on the SEC probe matter and was satisfied with the response given to her.

"Mr Howai has given us an explanation on the matter," she told reporters on Thursday, adding, "I am not concerned given his explanation. That is why I suggest you get it from the horse's mouth. I have read the media reports on the matter and I suggest you get a statement from him."

SEC chairman Patrick Watson was quoted in the Trinidad Guardian newspaper on Friday that the commission was not involved in any investigation of any matter concerning the trading of TCL shares in 2002.