Long before the release of 11 million documents in the Panama Papers expose last week, Trinidad and Tobago were featured as having some of their politicians hiding money and using Panama as a safe haven.
And the buck does not stop there. Reports coming out of Panama this week say there are several nationals of Trinidad and Tobago, past and present high officials, whose names will be leaked internationally shortly.
Stay tuned, a source from the United States Justice Department told TTWhistleblower this week. So far, just one “small player” from Trinidad has surfaced, but bigger “fish” will come ashore soon. The source said the Justice Department is already monitoring certain persons from Trinidad and Tobago at the moment.
Remember the names – John O’Halloran, Francis “Boysie” Prevatt, and Dr JB Ou Wai. They loved Panama and made that country their safe haven after being accused during the time when Dr Eric Williams was Prime Minister.
When the PNM assumed political power in 1956, it was on the mantra of being a government that would practice “morality in public life”. The promise then was that the previous decades of corruption would be no more. That didn’t happen.
O’Halloran, a high-ranking Minister and public official, went on to wheel and deal his way into millions of dollars from foreign firms wanting to secure local contracts.
Most prominent of these projects was the Caroni Racing Complex project, in which O’Halloran, as the head of the Trinidad Racing Authority, had ample opportunity to line his pockets.
Tonnes of steel and concrete, worth close to $100 million of taxpayers’ money were sunk into the Caroni swamp, as foundation materials for a project that was never completed. The San Antonio, Texas construction firm, Sam P Wallace, was selected by O’Halloran and former Minister of Finance and PNM party chairman Francis Prevatt. In 1983, O’Halloran was named and charged as being the recipient of a TT $3.6 million bribe from the firm.
Even before that, as PNM Minister of Industry and Commerce in 1956, O’Halloran was reported to have received kickbacks for a TT $43 million sewerage scheme.
Details of dealings with respect to many of these contracts were kept secret, but were later investigated by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission for allegations of questionable payments.
The unstoppable “Johnny O” went on to become the Chairman of the Chaguaramas Development Authority, and rented out state lands to companies without proper procedure. But in those days, he was considered virtually untouchable under the PNM, whose political leader Eric Williams, was his bosom buddy. Indeed, O’Halloran was Williams’ closest confidante and was not only one of two witnesses at Dr Williams’ secret marriage to Mayleen Mooksang, but was the executor of Dr Williams’ last will and testament.
In fact, so insured from public condemnation was O’Halloran, that even after he fled the country before he could be charged, he wrote the government demanding payment of his pension!
Further indication of O’Halloran’s influence was that it was only after he fled that a warrant was issued for his arrest.
In July 1980, the DC-9 scandal broke. This centred around a questionable deal for the purchase of four new DC-9 aircraft to state-owned BWIA from the US-based McDonnel Douglas Corporation, a company that flourished in pay-offs to officials from mainly developing countries. A TT $1.3 million bribe was reportedly paid for securing this deal.
Also figuring prominently in this deal was Francis Prevatt, who was also protected by the government of the day. When the US company admitted paying bribes, the government accused McDonnel Douglas Corporation of being “grossly libellous” against a sovereign state and demanded an apology. Ironically, this statement was made on behalf of the government by none other than today’s Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who at that time was the PNM’s Minister of Information.
But O’Halloran’s and Prevatt’s schemes would soon be blown to bits. Upon taking over as Prime Minister, George Chambers shut down the racing complex project and O’Halloran resigned his governmental postings.
Despite several senior state officials travelling here, there and everywhere in search of him, he could not be found and it was reported that he had acquired Panamanian citizenship.
Never being brought to TT courts, O’Halloran died in Canada in 1985 after a prolonged illness. His dealings were investigated under the subsequent NAR regime and his assets were frozen in 1989 by a Toronto court.
Dr JB Ou Wai, a well-known racing horse owner skipped town and settled in Panama after his name was linked to one of the scandals. In 1990, TT succeeded in getting restitution arising out of the Tesoro scandal.
Express investigative journalist Camini Marajh reported exclusively that business consultant Ken Emrith who was once associated with the United National Congress (UNC) used a Panamanian Shell Corporation to channel millions of US dollars to offshore bank accounts including a US$1 million consultancy fee from a convicted money launderer connected to the Petrobras bribery scandal in Brazil.
The information was revealed from secret files from Mossack Fonseca & Co (MF), a global law firm and provider of offshore services has revealed.
The files, dubbed “The Panama Papers” were obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) with the Trinidad Express and other media partners.
Governments across the world began investigating possible financial wrongdoing by the rich and powerful yesterday after a leak of four decades of documents from a Panamanian law firm that specialised in setting up offshore companies.
The “Panama Papers” revealed financial arrangements of global politicians and public figures. While holding money in offshore companies is not illegal, journalists who received the leaked documents said they could provide evidence of funds hidden for tax evasion, money laundering, sanctions busting, drug deals or other crimes.
The law firm, Mossack Fonseca, which says it has set up more than 240,000 offshore companies for clients around the globe, denied any wrongdoing and called itself the victim of a campaign against privacy.