Privy Council rules for release of WGTL documents

The United National Congress (UNC) activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj has been granted a lifeline in his bid to obtain documents related to Petrotrin's failed billion-dollar World Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) plant deal. 

In a judgement delivered at the United Kingdom's Supreme Court in London, this morning, five Law Lords of the Privy Council ruled that a High Court Judge and the Court of Appeal were both wrong to dismiss Maharaj's lawsuit, over his failure to obtain the documents through a request under the Freedom of Information Act. 

Lord Phillip Sales, who wrote the 15-page judgement, stated that Maharaj had a realistic prospect of success in proving his case that there was a strong public interest in disclosing the documents, which would normally be considered exempt under the legislation.

The documents are the witness statements of former Petrotrin executives Charmaine Baptiste and Anthony Chan Tack, which were vital in the company's arbitration against World GTL over the failed deal.  

"So far as concerns possible benefits for the public interest of disclosure of the Baptiste and Chan Tack statements, the Board considers that it is arguable that they are of significant weight, with a view to securing transparency and accountability in relation to relevant decisions in a number of respects," Sales said, in the judgement. 

The Privy Council decision means that Maharaj can now continue to pursue his lawsuit seeking disclosure before a new High Court Judge. It does not guarantee that he would be eventually successful in his claim. 

Baptiste and Chan Tack's statements in the arbitration are being sought as they were the catalyst for the withdrawal of Petrotrin's billion-dollar lawsuit against its former executive chairman Malcolm Jones for breach of fiduciary duty over the deal. 

In early 2016, British Queen's Counsel Vincent Nelson advised the then board that the case had to be discontinued as statements showed that the deal was a bad business decision and not negligence. 

Last month, Nelson was charged alongside former attorney general Anand Ramlogan, SC, and Opposition Senator Gerald Ramdeen over a State legal fee kickback conspiracy. 

Nelson has signed a plea agreement with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to plead guilty to the charges and testify against Ramlogan and Ramdeen. 

Nelson's plea agreement hearing came up last week, but he was absent as he was not given enough notice to travel from the United Kingdom. Nelson, who has been released on $100,000 bail and allowed to leave the court due to concerns over his health and safety, is expected to return to Trinidad for another hearing on June 4. 

Ironically, Ramlogan led Maharaj's legal team in the local and foreign courts.  Maharaj was also represented by Richard Clayton, QC, Christopher Knight, Chelsea Stewart and Alvin Pariagsingh. Petrotrin was represented by Thomas Roe, QC, and Dominique Martineau. 

About the World GTL Deal 

In 2005, Petrotrin and World GTL entered into a joint venture to build, finance and operate a gas-to-liquids plant in Trinidad. the $2.7 billion plant, which was supposed to convert natural gas into a more ozone-friendly liquified form of diesel. 

Although it was eventually completed, it remained non-functional due to lack of appropriate technology and was deemed scrap iron. There were also issues with construction delays and extensive cost overruns. 

Petrotrin initiated arbitration proceedings against the plant's former owner International Chamber of Commerce and it eventually won.

However, the arbitration award is yet to be paid. 

World GTL initiated its own arbitration proceedings at London Court of International Arbitration, which was also won by Petrotrin. 

In 2012, the lawsuit was filed against Jones and his fellow board members as they caused Petrotrin to give a guarantee in respect of the financing provided by Credit Suisse. 

- by Derek Achong

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