Final Judgement of More Than US$100 Million Awarded to Trinidad and Tobago in Piarco Airport Court Case

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – A United States judge has delivered a final judgement totaling US$131.3 million in the civil matter arising out of the Piarco Airport corruption scandal in Trinidad and Tobago, former attorney general, Faris Al-Rawi has said.

alrawFARFormer attorney general, Faris Al-Rawi addressing news conference on Monday (CMC Photo)Al-Rawi told a news conference that the final judgement handed down by Justice Reemberto Diaz, sitting in the 11th  Eleventh District Court in Dade County, Miami,  represented 19 years of hard-fought litigation by the state.

“The challenges to the verdict are complete. Today, Judge Diaz’ finalization of the judgment means that a request for a new trial cannot happen. The request for what the Americans calls a directed verdict has been closed off and denied. All of those matters have now been put behind us.

“Subject to certain technical challenges, the real thing in front of us right now is the potential of an appeal, but there is no appeal as I speak to you now,” Al-Rawi added.

Following a four-week trial in March, a six-person jury in Miami returned a guilty verdict with respect to defendants Raul Gutierrez Jr, former finance minister Brian Kuei Tung, and businessman Steve Ferguson, in the civil litigation initiated by the Trinidad and Tobago government in 2004.

Al-Rawi said that over the course of 19 years the basket of litigation brought against 52 persons and entities had to be refined due to some of them being settled based on the result of findings of guilt in criminal proceedings which began in the United States of America.

“In 2010, the litigation in the Miami proceedings effectively went into hibernation. The record demonstrates that there was near no activity in the Piarco civil matter in the period 2010 to 2015 under the hands of (former) attorney general Anand Ramlogan. And that matter fell into risk of being thrown out of court,” Al Rawi- said.

He told reporters that following the change in government in 2015, the state was able to get the proceedings back on track in 2017, and effectively resuscitated the litigation.

He said having made five amendments to the proceedings that began in 2004, and having narrowed the litigation down to four defendants, the case was set to commence last May, but had to be pushed back by one year.

He said that during the trial in March, the court heard from 12 witnesses for the plaintiff and several witnesses for the defendants.

“The case presented by Trinidad and Tobago included evidence which was taken on deposition. But, the evidence of guilt and the actual confessions as to how this conspiracy unfolded came from the witnesses themselves. Raul Gutierrez Jr specifically confessed in criminal proceedings and in plea agreements entered in the Unites States court. Eduardo Hillman-Waller, similarly testified and provided evidence which he laid out in guilty pleas, which now stand in the public records.”

Al-Rawi said the court also heard from Ronald Burke and Leonardo Mora, who both confessed and gave details of exactly who they coordinated, conspired and worked with in causing damage to Trinidad and Tobago.

Several of the 52 defendants in the matter would have either been found guilty or entered guilty pleas in the US courts, and would have made settlements and served prison time.

“The position today, as it stands, is that the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has this US$131.3 million standing to its credit. In dealing with that the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago now has to take certain steps, and that is to seek enforcement of its proceedings,” Al-Rawi said.

The former attorney general said that the proceedings of the judgment attract an interest of nine million dollars annually and that judgment continues to accrue, the state has instructed its attorneys to commence steps of having the judgment enforced.

He said the state is also going in pursuit of recovering its legal costs, since there has been a considerable expenditure on legal fees, but which has been justified by the judgment in favor of Trinidad and Tobago.

Al-Rawi told reporters that the judgement is one of joint and several liability, explaining that all three defendants are exposed to paying the sum, not in one-third shares, but the entire sum can be recovered from anyone of them, or all three.

“What the State is going to do is to pursue its options. Right now, we have the ability in the United States…there’s a very detailed process by which the defendants must inform of all of their assets.

“The judgments are in the course of being registered today across counties so that any personal or other property that belong to the defendants will be caught automatically. And in the course of enforcement, there is something called extraterritorial reach,” Al-Rawi said, adding that the extraterritorial reach allow the judgments to not only be enforced in the US, but outside of the United States as well.

Al-Rawi stated that if the defendants want to stop the execution of the judgment they would have to put up a bond equal to the amount of the judgment, as well as two years’ interest.