Success has many fathers; but corruption, to paraphrase, is a bastard.
Fortunately, Mr Live Wire has a paternity kit. So let’s have a look at the now defunct LifeSport programme, which has been held in a headlock by the media for the past two months.
LifeSport, of course, is the brainchild of former Sport Minister and swim coach Anil Roberts who quit his Government post on Thursday after falling into the deep end. Hopefully, the DPP will ensure that Roberts’ obligations to his problem child do not end there.
LifeSport’s godparents were permanent secretary Ashwin Creed, director Ruth Marchan and Ministry of Sport advisor Caryl Kellar.
Creed spent much of the last three months in hiding after he allegedly received death threats linked to his role with the controversial programme. Athletes all over the country would probably hope that he remains out of sight.
For while sporting bodies and elite athletes struggle for financial assistance, the Ministry of Sport funnelled a still unknown amount of taxpayers’ money to unidentified athletes at Creed’s Rebirth track club.
Let’s just say that, since Creed and Roberts teamed up, transparency is about as welcomed at the Sport Ministry as Chandresh Sharma is at Balisier House.
Marchan was often a go-between between the Ministry of Sport and LifeSport coordinators—several of whom, according to the Central Audit Committee, were said to have criminal links. She told the coordinators, sometimes in dollars and cents, what her superiors required of them.
Now, Marchan is in hiding after her bodyguard Curtis “Tallman” Gibson was gunned down two months ago; and she sensationally alleged that former Boxing Board advisor Boxu Potts and fellow director David Bobb are wishing harm to befall her.
Considering that Marchan was named for allegedly pocketing kickbacks from Potts for a Sport Ministry-sponsored boxing event in 2011, she does not quite live up to her own billing as the epitome of integrity and justice. But any port for a storm.
And the mysterious Kellar? By all accounts, he fixed problems for the Minister and has some pretty tough dudes on his “My Lime” list. You are supposedly better off running into an army of black cats than crossing his path.
On ground level, the Director of the LifeSport was responsible for keeping the wheels turning. In two years, the bum in this seat has changed four times. Forbes Persaud, the former Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) CEO, ran the first leg. He’d rather not talk about it, though.
Ex-deputy police commissioner Winston Cooper succeeded Persaud. Unsurprisingly for a former top local lawman, he didn’t detect or report anything wrong.
Henry Charles was third and he told the Trinidad Guardian that he left due to inconsistencies he noticed: “I was there for a year, and I am in no way surprised by what I am seeing now.”
It sure took Charles a long time to realise he was working in a cesspit.
Cornelius Price replaced Charles this February and was in charge when the bottom of the bucket fell out. Price and Charles were both fingered by the Audit for their alleged fervour in ensuring that suspect catering invoices were paid.
And then there was Adolphus Daniell who managed to resuscitate LifeSport after the Ministry of Finance temporarily halted funding for the programme in 2013. Daniell said he did not charge LifeSport for his assistance; and promptly pocketed $34 million for an unfulfilled education contract, which proves he is indeed a smart man.
Iswhar Muttoo, COP councillor for St Augustine South/Piarco/St Helena, is the deputy chairman of the LifeSport Implementation Committee but could not explain how Daniell got his plum contract. That was more than his colleagues were willing to say.
The Sunday Express rang up the men and women on the SPORTT Company board who were supposed to provide oversight to the programme and they were all much too shy to speak. It was in stark contrast to their apparent behaviour over their past two years when, by their negligence, they might as well have lifted their collective skirts whenever someone whispered “LifeSport.”
The SPORTT Company board is chaired by Sebastien Paddington, a former national swimmer who was once coached by Roberts, and also includes: Reynold Bala, Norris Blanc, Nisa Dass, Dr. Anyl Gopeesingh, Sabrenah Khayyam, Matthew Quamina, Annan Ramnanansingh, Kent Samlal, Harnarine Seeram Singh and Milton Siboo.
Paddington declined comment on Daniell’s TT$34 million pay-out until he could speak to the company’s lawyers.
Paddy, you haven’t thoroughly discussed that little TT$34 million business yet? Been busy, eh? Do get back to us on that, okay?
John Mollenthiel, who quit as SPORTT Company CEO just last month in-between the media revelations, was trying to keep his head down too.
“I really don’t want to say too much on (LifeSport) because my fear is my name gets out there,” Mollenthiel told the Trinidad Newsday. “And I’m really not keen to have my name thrown about and caught up in too much bacchanal.”
In fact, the Audit noted that Daniell’s controversial TT$34 million payment followed: “recommendation from (Ashwin Creed) the Permanent Secretary, MOS to (John Mollenthiel) the CEO SporTT, the Board of SporTT at a meeting held on March 8, 2013 ratified the decision made on December 6, 2012 to award the contract…”
Tell Mr Mollenthiel that bacchanal reach.
There are numerous other peripheral figures whose names should be in the DPP’s in-box.
Like Susanna Haddad, the first female president of the Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation, and her S and P Sport Coordinators company that, like Marchan, played a curious role between the Ministry and the coordinators.
Haddad, whose brother Anthony Haddad did get on to the Audit report, relieved grassroot coordinators of significant sums of money through her heavy invoices for equipment and miscellaneous items. And, based on the invoices Mr Live Wire has seen, Haddad might have delivered more sporting equipment around Trinidad and Tobago than FIFA and the International Cricket Council (ICC) combined.
It is more than passing strange that the Central Audit Committee struggled to find proof of the billed equipment.
Thus far, the fingers have pointed towards dodgy amounts paid out to ground floor operators. For instance, Trinidad Newsday journalist Walter Alibey, according to the audit, received a contract valued at TT$832,703.50 (VAT inclusive), which appeared to have been awarded without tender.
However, the Audit said Alibey only submitted invoices for TT$385,356, which was less than half the value of the contract.
Did Alibey not want the other TT$447,347.50 for his completed work? Where did that money disappear to?
Throw a couple hundred Alibeys together and it is possible that almost half the LifeSport largesse never made it to the eat-a-food opportunists or “criminal underworld.” Or, at least, not the people commonly considered as criminals.
The whereabouts of those figures, which left the SPORTT Company but never made it to the contractors, will tell us if the Sport Minister was as removed from the fiasco as he claims.
So please don’t switch off your phone, Mrs Haddad.
Thus far, only one person related to Life Sport was grilled by the police. Rajaee Ali, the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen member from Carapo and a former murder accused, spoke to lawmen twice already and spent two nights in a cell based on the anti-gang legislation.
The anti-gang legislation allows the police to detain, without a warrant, anyone it reasonably suspects to have committed an offence for a period not exceeding 72 hours.
One such offence, which carries a 20-year prison term, is if a person “knowingly commits, assists, aids or abets in the commission of an activity at the direction of, or in concert with, or for the benefit of, the gang, or conceals or assists in the concealment of the same.” The legislation further describes as a gang leader as “a person who knowingly initiates, organises, plans, finances, directs, manages or supervises any gang-related activity.”
Someone suspected of financing, aiding or concealing gang-related activity can be held for three days without a warrant? And, in three years, the police has never suspected anyone of this outside of East Dry River, Laventille or Carapo?
Well, LifeSport does not appear to be short of gangs or criminal activity. Between the allegations of fraud, threats of violence, at least one recorded murder and suggestions of criminal behaviour from gangs in Carapo, Bazilon Street, the Sport Ministry and the SPORTT Company, there appears to be an unholy marriage of convenience between white and blue collar criminals.
And it is the white collar criminals who are running this enterprise.
The list of persons involved with LifeSport at an administrative level includes: Anil Roberts, Ashwin Creed, Ruth Marchan, Caryl Keller, Forbes Persaud, Winston Cooper, Henry Charles, Cornelius Price, Adolphus Daniell, Iswhar Muttoo, Sebastien Paddington, Reynold Bala, Norris Blanc, Nisa Dass, Dr Anyl Gopeesingh, Sabrenah Khayyam, Matthew Quamina, Annan Ramnanansingh, Kent Samlal, Harnarine Seeram Singh, Milton Siboo and John Mollenthiel.
If lawmen use the right legislation, they won’t even need a warrant to enjoy their company for a few nights. Suddenly, the anti-gang bill would be denounced for the oppressive law that it is.
For now, it seems that dozens of people were involved in a criminal enterprise which defrauded taxpayers of millions. But only Rajaee Ali had what calypsonian Shadow described as “a bandit face.”
Editor’s Note: Wired868 inserted as hyperlinks the various news reports referenced in this story and would like to commend the respective reporters and news houses for their dogged work.