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Rennie: I got less than 50%

By Jada Loutoo Tuesday, April 29 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Rennie Coolman...
Rennie Coolman...

ALTHOUGH he was legally entitled to 50 percent of his late wife’s estate, Rennie Coolman, husband of murdered Chaguanas businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman, received substantially less after her death.

Coolman returned yesterday for further cross examination by lawyers defending the 12 men accused of killing his wife.

The trial entered its 13th day yesterday, resuming after the Easter break in the Port-of-Spain Second Criminal Court.

On December 19, 2006, Naipaul-Coolman, 52, was kidnapped from the driveway of her Lange Park, Chaguanas, home. A ransom demand was eventually made for her safe release and some of it was paid, but she was not freed. Her body was never found.

Coolman was questioned at length by attorney Richard Valere, who represents Devon Peters, about his late wife’s estate and the joint accounts they shared as a couple.

Valere’s questioning also ventured to issues relating to Coolman’s former job at the Methanol Company where he was process engineering manager as well as why he did not return to Trinidad to spend Valentine’s Day with Naipaul-Coolman in 2006 if he loved her; all of which prompted trial judge to question the relevance of the attorney’s line of cross examination.

On more than one occasion, Justice Malcolm Holdip, who is presiding over the trial, was forced to question the relevance of Valere’s questions. At one point, defence attorney Mario Merritt expressed concerns that the discussions as it related to Valere’s focus on Naipaul-Coolman’s estate settlement distribution were being held in the jury’s presence.

In his testimony, Coolman said he held three joint accounts with Naipaul-Coolman. Two were with local banks while a third was in Canada, where they also jointly owned a home.

Coolman said he had access to the accounts. He said one of the joint accounts in Trinidad held $400,000 and that account, the sale of the Canadian house and the other two accounts all formed part of Naipaul-Coolman’s estate which was divided between himself and her three children from a former marriage.

While he did not divulge the amounts in the other two joint accounts, Coolman said the house in Canada, which was purchased for CAN$342,000, was sold for CAN$348,000.

Valere: You would have realised approximately $1 million after the death of your wife?

Coolman: Totally incorrect.

He said his late wife’s estate was divided into four parts with each person receiving $500,000, although he accepted only $488,000 as opposed to the legal distribution of 50 percent which is normally given to the spouse.

He said an agreement had been reached between Naipaul-Coolman’s father, her elder brother, her three children and himself that her estate would be divided into four parts. This was done approximately one year after her disappearance.

Two of the three joint accounts, as well as 20 percent of the value of the house in Canada — which represented the equity provided by Naipaul-Coolman towards the purchase of the house — formed the Xtra Foods chief executive officer’s estate.

One of the joint account Coolman held with his wife, he said, was not included. His salary was deposited into this account, he said.

He admitted that he did access money from the joint account which held $400,000 to pay the woman who was pretending to be an officer from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Coolman earlier testified that he paid $75,000 to the woman to ensure that he would not be charged with his wife’s murder and had done so out of concern that he could be innocently charged for his wife’s murder.

“Yes, I did access the account,” he said in response to repeated questions by Valere, some of which were objected to by the prosecution and upheld by the trial judge.

Further questioned on his actions on the night his wife was abducted and why he did not shout out, he said he did not think “that was the thing to do at the time.”

“She was taken under duress,” he said. The couple’s two Pompek dogs, he said, were not seen at the time his wife was being abducted.

Coolman denied suggestions by attorney Wayne Sturge, who is representing Lyndon James and Allan Martins at the trial, that he was “playing games” with the jury, or was lying to them.

Sturge: Now that you are boxed into a corner you are playing games.

Coolman: I am not boxed into any corner.

Coolman was being asked about whether he feared being charged for his wife’s murder but he said it was not a “fear” but a concern of his. He told attorney Ulric Skerritt, who represents Joel Fraser, that he did not know who killed his wife but that she had passed on to the “spiritual world”.

He was questioned about his relationship with his father-in-law, his wife’s brothers and her daughter, who lived at her mother’s Radix Road, Chaguanas, home with her three children.

He said his relationship with Naipaul-Coolman’s daughter, Rishma Ali, was normal and they were still in contact with each other.

Skerritt: He (Naipaul-Coolman’s father) was not happy with your relationship with your wife?

Skerritt’s question was objected to by prosecutor Dana Seetahal, SC, and he instead focused on Coolman’s relationship with his late wife’s brothers.

Skerritt: You had a strange relationship with Ryan (Naipaul)?

Coolman: No. Incorrect.

He later explained that he and Ryan were close as he had greater contact with him as opposed to the other members of his wife’s family.

Coolman described his relationship with his father-in-law, who passed away two years ago, and her other brother Anand as “normal”.

Skerritt: Isn’t it true that you and your wife were having serious issues over the type of relationship you had with your step-daughter?

Coolman: Not at all.

Skerritt then focused his questions on the book written by the Blue Star Ashram in Claxton Bay on Naipaul-Coolman’s abduction and murder.

The first two chapters of the book were written by Coolman and he said the idea to write the book came from the Ashram, of which both he and his late wife were members.

Skerritt: Were you trying to cash in on the misfortunes of your wife?

Coolman: Definitely not.

The trial continues today when Coolman is expected to be cross examined by attorneys Joseph Pantor and Lennox Sankersingh, who represent Anthony Gloster and Jameel Garcia respectively.

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