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Integrity Commission clears T&T Prime Minister of wrongdoing in purchase of townhouse

Published:Sunday | September 17, 2023 | 10:09 AM
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. - CMC

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – The Integrity Commission has cleared Trinidadian Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley of wrongdoing in the purchase of a townhouse in Tobago, saying that it had ended a probe into the matter.

While the Commission acknowledged that Prime Minister Rowley had omitted to disclose the purchase contrary to the Integrity in Public Life Act, it said that the omission was not deliberate.

It maintained its position that it could not find reasonable grounds to draw the inference that the prime minister made a false statement of the estimated value of the townhouse in his Form A declaration of income, assets and liabilities.

Prime Minister Rowley has always maintained he did nothing wrong when he filed the necessary documents, but the Commission has asked him to amend his declaration to reflect the true state of his affairs.

The Commission said that it had conducted a “meaningful investigation” of the complaint first raised in December 2021 by opposition legislator Saddam Hosein over the purchase of the townhouse.

While it said its first investigation into the matter had found nothing wrong, the Commission maintained its position in responding to a second call by the activist for the main opposition United National Congress (UNC), Ravi Balgobin Maharaj, to reopen its investigation.

Maharaj's attorney, Vishaal Siewsaran in the second complaint, on August 17, took issue with the value Prime Minister Rowley had ascribed to the townhouse in his declaration of income and assets under the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA).

The attorney argued that the Commission's original 18-month investigation was done in a “piecemeal manner,” and was “skewed, biased, and incomplete.”

In the request to reopen the investigation, Siewsaran said when Prime MInister Rowley and his wife signed the deed for the purchase price of TT$1.2 million (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents), they would have been expected to pay stamp duty on that figure, and the attorney who acted for them would have had to present a valuation report to pay the stamp duty.

“It is clear that the BIR (Board of Inland Revenue) became suspicious of this transaction and hence commissioned an independent valuation from the Valuations Division,” the attorney said, noting that it valued the townhouse at $TT1.68 million.

But the Commission said it found “no evidence of any alteration from a lower stamp value to a higher stamp value to raise an inference that there was a change in the circumstances which was so significant that Dr Rowley had to be made aware of same.

“Additionally, the commission reiterates that it had no evidence suggesting that Dr Rowley knew of the valuation of the said townhouse unit for stamp duty purposes.”

“The Commission is compelled to point out that what ought to have been done by the attorney responsible for the transaction and what was actually done are two distinct matters.

“In this regard, the commission is required to make its decision based on evidence.

“Certainly Dr Rowley may have been informed of the stamp duty which he was required to pay in the sum of TT$33,500. However, based on the evidence obtained during the course of the commission's investigation, there was no indication that a valuation report was submitted to the Inland Revenue Division as regards the transaction.”

The Commission said it also considered obtaining further evidence on the transaction. However, it determined that any communication between Prime Minister Rowley and his attorney would have been privileged.

It also again rejected that its actions reeked of political bias.

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