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Manning for Clico Inquiry

By Andre Bagoo Sunday, September 25 2011

FORMER Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira is poised to call former prime minister Patrick Manning to testify on her behalf at the Sir Anthony Colman-chaired Clico Commission of Inquiry. Manning is expected to take the stand at the next phase of hearings beginning November 7 at the Winsure Building in Port-of-Spain.

Nunez-Tesheira was summoned in July to give evidence at the proceedings, but her summons was last week adjourned to November.

In July, the former finance minister indicated to the inquiry that she would be reserving the right to call witnesses.

Manning is expected to address the circumstances surrounding Nunez-Tesheira’s presiding over the January 2009 CL Financial bailout while holding shares in the company. Nunez-Tesheira has also been accused of withdrawing assets from CL Financial subsidiaries after she received insider information, obtained through her public post, over the status of CLF.

A complaint, filed since 2009, was this year referred by the Integrity Commission to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for review under Section 34 of the Integrity in Public Life Act. Section 34 (5) reads, “Where after the conduct of an investigation, the Commission is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence has been committed, it shall make a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions who may take such action as he thinks appropriate.”

In March 2009, amid uproar over the conflict of interest scandal, Manning had defended his beleaguered finance minister. That month, the Government held a special Cabinet meeting at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, at which the allegations were discussed. Speaking at a press- briefing after the meeting, Manning said, “You have heard one side but one must hear the other side.”

He said then he had come to his own opinion on the issue but would not reveal it.

“Let us not come to any conclusions prematurely. Let us hear what the minister has to say on Friday and then you will come to your conclusions in the same way that I will come to mine,” he told reporters.

Asked if he had confidence in his Finance Minister, Manning said, “I want to re-affirm the confidence that I had in the Minister of Finance when she was first appointed in that position.” But he added, “Until such time as something happens to force me to change that position, then the status quo remains.”

It is likely that Manning will address speculation that Nunez-Tesheira privately offered to resign, but he refused to accept it. A few months after the controversy broke, Manning had refused to accept the resignation of his attorney general, John Jeremie. At the time, MPs in Parliament queried why a similar course of action was not taken in relation to Nunez-Tesheira.

Nunez-Tesheira is represented at the inquiry by Frederick Gilkes, a former partner of JD Sellier and Company who now practices at Caribbean Commercial Law Chambers (CCLC).

Nunez-Tesheira has also retained Kimberly Molligan, attorney at CCLC, to represent her. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Finance rejected a $2 million request for legal fees which the former minister asked to be paid to cover her costs of retaining attorneys Israel Khan, SC, Keith Scotland and Daniel Khan. Last week at the inquiry, former CLF chief financial officer, Michael Carballo, said Nunez- Tesheira told him, at a meeting of January 23, 2009, that she was already aware of liquidity troubles at CLF. (See pages 8 & 9)

On Friday, under cross-examination by Gilkes, Carballo acknowledged that Central Bank Governor Ewart Williams may have been the “big birdie” who told Nunez-Tesheira about the issue, because CLF officials had reported it to him on January 7, 2009. However, it is alleged that Nunez-Tesheira withdrew funds between December 2008 and January 2009.

The inquiry last week heard evidence of how the former finance minister pressed for urgent action after CLF executive chairman, Lawrence Duprey, wrote the Central Bank on January 13, 2009.

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