Thursday 19th October, 2006

 

AG discloses in the Senate: Five admit to airport fraud

 
 
 
 
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BY COREY CONNELLY

Five parties in the USA have pleaded guilty to wrongdoing in the construction of the Piarco Airport project, Attorney General John Jeremie revealed yesterday.

He made the shock disclosure while contributing to the debate on the 2007 Budget in the Upper House.

The five are among two former government ministers and at least six businessmen charged with conspiring to falsely convert more than $19 million under the Piarco Airport project.

Jeremie’s revelation threw the Senate into upheaval with Opposition members—particularly Wade Mark and Tim Gopeesingh—saying he was in breach of the Standing Orders.

The UNC senators’ outbursts also caused Senate vice president Rawle Titus to rise to his feet on several occasions to bring order to the debate.

“Mr Vice President, I have the distinct pleasure this afternoon (yesterday) to bring some closure to this matter of fraud in the construction of the Piarco Airport,” Jeremie said, as he prefaced his statement.

“In the Unites States versus Raul Gutierrez Jr, Eduardo Hillman-Waller, Rene Diaz Dillegas, Richard Lacle and Calmaquip Engineering Corporation, I have been advised by the assistant United States attorney that each and every one of these accused persons has agreed to plead guilty in the United States and, even as we speak, are co-operating with law enforcement in T&T.”

At this point, UNC senator Mark rose to his feet.

“Mr Vice President, we call on the Attorney General to withdraw the statement,” he said.

“He has indicated that this matter is before the court. No closure has been brought to it. The matter is before the courts. Why is he using his power in a matter that is sub judice.”

Jeremie then responded:

“If I may, this is not a matter before…I said the United States of America.

“First of all, it is not a matter before our courts and secondly, I was announcing what the members should be happy about. It is a fair agreement. If I plead guilty to a matter, it is not before the courts.”

Gopeesingh countered: “I stand on a point of order, Mr Vice President. The point is that he is referring to matters before the local court and the international court.

“The names of Gutierrez and all the people from Calmaquip, they are before this court and they are before the American court. So, it is wrong for the honourable Attorney General, who himself knows the law of T&T, and if he disrespects his own laws something is very sad in the state of T&T, and this is why we are seeing anarchy in Trinidad.”

PNM senator Danny Montano then rose to the defence of Jeremie, insisting the Standing Orders were clear on the issue.

“Standing Order 35 (2) says it very clearly, that no matter can be referred to if it is before the courts in such a way as to prejudice the interests of the parties…It does not say you cannot refer to it,” he said.

“What the Speaker must not do is to speak in such a way as to prejudice the interests of the parties.”

Titus again intervened, saying he had no clear knowledge of the Standing Orders stipulation on the issue.

“The Standing Orders do not say that if the matter is before the courts in T&T or in the international courts. It says ‘before the courts.’

“In that case, I would like the Attorney General, now you have told us the outcome of the matter, I would like you to proceed please,” he said.

Jeremie told the House that the people of T&T should be happy that the parties had pleaded guilty.

“Those pleas should be entered into in the next week because they have not yet been heard,” he said, adding that details of the plea agreement could not be stated at this time.

As Mark rose to again interrupt, a visibly upset Titus said: “Honourable AG, could you please go on. You have reported the outcome; I would like you to proceed please.”

Jeremie vowed to say no more on the matter “but to report on the results of it.”

He also expressed gratitude to US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whom he said had provided steadfast leadership in the matter.

Piarco accused

A US federal grand jury indicted eight people and two companies in November 2005 on conspiracy and fraud charges. Among those indicted:

 Raul J Gutierrez Jr, former president and director of Calmaquip Engineering, accused of conspiracy, wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering.

 Armando Paz, former chief financial officer of Calmaquip and Gutierrez’s uncle, accused of conspiracy, wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering.

 Rene Diaz de Villegas, former vice president of finance and Gutierrez’s former brother-in-law, accused of conspiracy and wire fraud.

Eduardo Hillman-Waller, a principal in Birk Hillman Consultants, accused of conspiracy and wire fraud.

 Richard Lacle of Aruba and Leonardo Arturo Mora-Rodriguez of Miami, international business executives, face charges of money laundering.

 Two Trinidad executives, Steve Ferguson—who was an undisclosed owner of Calmaquip—and Ishwar Galbaransingh, face wire-fraud and money-laundering charges.

Galbaransingh’s Northern Construction was also indicted on wire-fraud charges.

 

 

 

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