PNM FAMILY AFFAIR
Sunday, January 20 2013
PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Friday night gave fresh details of the $320 million Milshirv/Rahael land deal, saying it was a “PNM family affair” which involved more party officials than previously thought.
At the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) rally at Old Market Square, Tobago, Persad-Bissessar said a PNM Tobago Council spokesperson — Denise Tsoi-a-Fatt Angus — once owned part of the three-acre plot of land at the corner of Shirvan Road and the Claude Noel Highway, Tobago, where the THA planned to construct a new headquarters for the Division of Agriculture.
The Prime Minister outlined a labyrinthine series of legal manoeuvres which she suggested could have been designed to shield the details of the transaction from the public eye.
“This Milshirv matter was clearly a PNM family affair,” Persad-Bissessar said. “The lands were owned by the PNM’s public relations officer and her family, sold to a company owned by another PNM family and bought by the PNM’s head honcho – Mr Orville London – who then leased and rented it back at the exorbitant price of $310 million. In other words, some $310 million dollars would have simply been shared amongst PNM family and friends.”
The transaction, as outlined by the Prime Minister, involved:
• On September 7, 1999, Tsoi-a-Fatt and family sold the three acres of land to a company called Aquila Ltd, registered at #11-16 Victoria Avenue, Port-of-Spain. The company shares the same registered address as Dankett Ltd, a firm tied to former PNM minister John Rahael’s family. The value of the sale was not stated.
• The Orville London-led THA bought the land from Dankett 12 years later on November 15, 2011, for $12 million.
• The THA leased the land to Milshirv Limited (also tied to the Rahael family).
• On November 21, 2011, Milshirv Limited rents the land to the THA in a transaction estimated at $310 million.
“What we did not know was that it is not simply one PNM family from Trinidad alone that profited but rather two PNM families were involved. One from Trinidad and one from in your own backyard right here in Tobago,” Persad-Bissessar said.
“How is it that Dankett Ltd was able to have such good fortune and good luck to secure a three-acre parcel of land that it somehow knew would meet the needs of the THA? For Dankett Ltd to know this they would have had to know that the THA would be willing to favourably consider locating and building an office complex on lands located in Shirvan. This would require a most powerful and influential voice within the THA. That voice would also need to carry strong weight and resonate loudly in the hierarchy of the PNM.”
She said the land was owned by the Tsoi-a-Fatt family, including Denise, whom she said is an adviser to the THA Secretary for Health on a salary of $60,000.
“What is curious about this sale is that it was not sold directly to Dankett Ltd, in fact, it was sold to Dankett via a company which acted as a middle man,” she said. “That company is called Aquila Ltd. In one deed therefore, Denise and her family sold the three acres to Aquila Ltd which in turn, in the same deed, simultaneously sold it to Dankett Ltd. Tonight I ask why was the sale to the Rahael-owned Dankett Ltd being passed through a middle-man? Was this being used to shield the sale to Dankett from the public eye? And if so, why? Why did they not simply convey the land directly to Dankett Ltd?”
She said Aquila Limited and Dankett Limited shared the same registered address and appeared to have an “incestuous relationship”.
The registered office address for Aquila Ltd, she said, is described in the deed as #11-16 Victoria Avenue, Port-of-Spain. The registered address for Dankett Ltd in the same deed is described as #11-13 Victoria Avenue, Port-of-Spain.
“This means that Dankett Ltd was housed at the same office address/building as part of Aquila Ltd,” she said. Checks showed the address is shared with an accounting firm.
“Today I ask Mr London to tell us what is the relationship between these two companies? Why was the deed drafted in such an unusual manner for the Tsoi-a-Fatt family to sell their three acres to Dankett Ltd indirectly through another company — Aquila Ltd.?”
Persad-Bissessar directed the following questions to London:
• Is Denise Tsoi-a-Fatt the PRO for the PNM in Tobago?
• Is she in fact employed as one of your highly paid special advisers? And if so, how much is she paid?
• Did she have inside knowledge about the THA’s desire or plans to build an office complex in Shirvan Road? Did the THA even in fact have any such plans prior to Dankett approaching it as the
new owner for the said three-acre parcel?
• If the THA did in fact intend to build an office complex on three acres of land in Shirvan Road, why did Denise and her family simply not sell their land directly to the THA?
• When the plan to construct the said office complex was made, did Denise disclose a conflict of interest because as a fact, she and her family were the owners of the subject parcel of land that was earmarked for the construction of the office complex ?
The High Court last week granted leave to the State to judicially review the deal. London has said there will be “procedural” issues which the THA would raise in court.
The Milshirv affair has been at the centre of attention since details were given in Parliament last year. There was a protracted process which saw the Ministry of Finance request documents on the deal, prior to the filing of a lawsuit, by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan this month seeking to have the transaction set aside as being in breach of the THA law barring unilateral borrowing and the Central Tenders Board Act.