By Andre Bagoo Saturday, October 20 2012
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Former CL Financial boss Lawrence Duprey...
THERE were unconfirmed reports yesterday that Lawrence Duprey has returned to Trinidad to continue secret negotiations between him and the State which could eventually see him take back the reigns of CL Financial (CLF), the same insurance entity he ran into insolvency.
All calls yesterday fell to the ground. However, a high-ranking police officer said, if Duprey had in fact entered the country, he would be alerted.
“I have not received any alerts. Such an occurrence would be a matter of significance,” the officer said. Attorney General Anand Ramlogan did not confirm or deny the reports.
“I don’t know if he is in the country,” he said.
Unconfirmed reports placed Duprey at a dinner in a restaurant with Carlos John, his long-time associate at CL Financial. John yesterday said, “I have not seen him in a year.” One relative of Duprey, when asked, said, “I have no idea.” CLF chairman Gerald Yetming said, “I am not aware.”
Minister of Finance Larry Howai recently stated his focus right now is on how the Government recoups its $20 billion State bailout of Clico. In his Budget, he announced the Clico Investment Fund (CIF) would be established in November. The assets of this trust will primarily comprise Clico’s 51 million Republic Bank shares (valued at $5.5 billion based on yesterday’s stock price), a move that will hive these key assets off from CL Financial, whatever its fate.
Yetming has previously warned that the State would have to let go of the CLF assets with the expiry of the share-agreement signed in 2009 which gave a deadline of June this year for the sale of CLF assets, something which has not happened.
The Government, it is understood, entered into a second agreement with the shareholders – of which Duprey is a key shareholder who holds power of attorney over several other family member’s shares – for a new deadline of December 31.
In the absence of further extension or a new agreement, the company could lapse back into its original hands, that is Duprey and other shareholders.
Minister of Finance Larry Howai did not immediately respond to a query from Newsday on the issue yesterday.
Amid persistent rumours that there could be a Duprey return, the Clico Policyholders Group yesterday warned that this must not be allowed to happen.
“If that agreement expires then the Government is exposed,” Peter Permell, the principal spokesperson for the group, said. “That cannot be a viable option: returning a regulated company to Duprey and his team is just not on. That would be unacceptable given all we know now. There are two civil lawsuits that have been filed against Duprey and former CLF finance director Andre Monteil. Additionally, the Commission of Inquiry has unearthed a certain amount of evidence that suggests that until those issues are resolved, we cannot accept them giving the company back.”
Permell said even if there are no charges in relation to the matter, the country has seen enough to make it unacceptable for the State to allow the company to fall into the hands of Duprey. “This cannot happen, simply on the basis of the recklessness of what has transpired. If I did not know what I know now in terms of what came out of the Commission of Inquiry it may be different, but given what we have heard so far I think that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Duprey has, at the very least, been reckless with this entity and has shown little regard for policyholders. I do not think anybody can dispute that it is almost as if he was gambling with this company and that he was taking chances on millions of dollars using other people’s money.”
Permell further noted the State has failed to bring the regulatory reforms needed to ensure that another Clico collapse does not happen.
“No responsible regulator worth his salt could reasonably be expected to hand back a company in which you have thousands of policyholders to somebody who has exhibited that kind of reckless behaviour. The checks and balances that are supposed to be in place have not been put in place. I would not be happy with a regulator that said it is okay to take back this company now. That would be totally unacceptable.”
Permell also warned that returning the company to Duprey would actually guarantee that policyholders would reject the new entity.
“With any business, the fundamental pillar is confidence,” he said. “I cannot see how any policyholder or client of a company would accept this. They are not going to stick around. This would be a situation where the people in charge have been shown to behave recklessly and that will have serious implications for the business in terms of being able to retain clients. I have no doubt in my mind that they would leave.”
“You cannot see confidence, but you know when confidence is not there. Confidence is going to be a key thing if people feel you are putting people in charge who may be perceived as dishonest,” Permell said.