Thu | Nov 30, 2023

Trinidad wins US$100m verdict in key corruption lawsuit

Published:Friday | March 31, 2023 | 12:48 AM
Dr Keith Rowley, prime minister of Trinidad & Tobago. File
Dr Keith Rowley, prime minister of Trinidad & Tobago. File

The government of Trinidad & Tobago has won a multimillion-dollar verdict in a sprawling corruption lawsuit that began nearly 20 years ago and involves former high-ranking officials.

A jury in Miami awarded the government more than US$100 million in compensatory damages in a verdict late Wednesday. The civil case began in 2004 when the Trinidadian government sued a former finance minister, various businessmen and several companies in countries, including Florida in the United States, Panama and Portugal.

“This is a victory for the people of T&T,” Faris Al-Rawi, a former attorney general in Trinidad who represented the government in the case, told reporters in Miami.

The lawsuit alleged that the defendants participated in a scheme beginning in August 1996 to illegally obtain consulting and construction contracts at hyperinflated prices via bribes, bid rigging and money laundering linked to an expansion of the Piarco International Airport in the Trinidadian capital of Port of Spain.

The verdict came 19 years after the civil case was filed in the Florida 11th Circuit Court and represents a victory for the government’s anti-corruption efforts. It went to trial on March 6.

Related criminal cases in Trinidad, in which top former officials were charged, have stalled or withered as key witnesses died and prosecutors dropped charges.

Nearly two dozen people were originally charged in Trinidad, including a former prime minister, his wife and an ex-Cabinet minister accused of receiving kickbacks from a local businessman.

Among those named in the lawsuit that the government won was a former finance minister, Brian Kuei Tung. An attorney for him could not immediately be reached for comment.

In 2005, the United States government filed several criminal charges against some of the same defendants, including bank fraud and money laundering. Although some charges were discarded, some defendants were convicted and sentenced to six-year prison terms. Others, including two Trinidadian businessmen, have appealed, and their cases are still pending in the US justice system.