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SOFT TOUCH: First Citizens’ $60,000,000 question; and “intolerably coward” response

“WHERE $60,000,000 of public funds was misappropriated and the movement of those monies was facilitated even unknowingly by a particular politically connected financial banking institution, there are questions to be publicly raised and satisfactorily answered…

“Shockingly but not surprisingly, what is being presented to citizens at this time is an apologia. We are being told that investigations have ceased because ‘many lives have been threatened’, and that, consequently, there will be a form of public accounting through piece-meal media responses by the institution’s chairman and chief executive officer on the outcome of investigations.

“That can only be described as intolerably cowardly, inadequate and unsatisfactory.”

Columnist Kathleen Pinder slams First Citizens’ scandalous response to a TT$60 million caper under former chairperson Nyree Alfonso:

Photo: Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi (right) shares his views at the Transparency Institute anti-corruption conference on 8 March 2016. (Copyright Shaun Rambaran/forge.co.tt)
Photo: Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi (right) shares his views at the Transparency Institute anti-corruption conference on 8 March 2016.
(Copyright Shaun Rambaran/forge.co.tt)

WHERE $60,000,000 of public funds was misappropriated and the movement of those monies was facilitated even unknowingly by a particular politically connected financial banking institution, there are questions to be publicly raised and satisfactorily answered.

Since 2011, the public waited for the bank in question and appropriate authorities to do their due diligence on the major fraud in a regulated sector. The public expected that the Attorney General’s office, aided by a suitable international asset recovery agency, would pursue criminal investigations, assisted at some level by a Police Service which is known to be hopelessly inefficient and corrupt.

Shockingly but not surprisingly, what is being presented to citizens at this time is an apologia. We are being told that investigations have ceased because “many lives have been threatened,” and that, consequently, there will be a form of public accounting through piece-meal media responses by the institution’s chairman and chief executive officer on the outcome of investigations.

That can only be described as intolerably cowardly, inadequate and unsatisfactory.

Sadly, despite the expressed exotic ambitions of previous governments, there is not even a snowball’s chance in hell of this country attaining the goal of becoming a proper regional financial centre and international player.

Photo: Bribery has long plagued Trinidad and Tobago's public sector. (Copyright Canadian Business)
Photo: Bribery has long plagued Trinidad and Tobago’s public sector.
(Copyright Canadian Business)

As a purported heavily regulated industry, bankers are highly trained before they are allowed to do weighty transactional work. They would have been highly trained to apply enhanced due diligence on a risk-sensitive basis in dealing with large sums of money fraudulently obtained as well as high-risk shareholding clients such as politically exposed persons (PEP) and organisations, who may well be acting on behalf of another or others.

They would be highly trained to identify the different types of business structure likely to be involved in suspicious transactions and other risks associated with the trans-shipment of large sums of money redirected from the national economy into non-traditional accounts off-shore.

As fiduciary officers, senior managers of First Citizens have an exceptional overriding responsibility to routinely apply enhanced client due diligence as well as rigorous ongoing monitoring procedures because of the nature of the bank as a government-directed institution. This translates into a higher-than-average risk for fraudulent financial dealings by agents of politically connected persons.

Insider dealing and market manipulation of a 2013 Initial Public Offering (IPO) has been one of the bank’s vulnerabilities under former First Citizens chairman and UWI-trained attorney, Nyree Alfonso, who once famously stated, “You cannot use morals and ethics because everyone’s are different.”

She said so under the stewardship and presumably with the tacit support of former minister of finance and First Citizens banker, Larry Howai, who himself had been involved in a claim of insider trading at TCL at the time he was CEO of the bank, a claim from which he has not so far been clearly exonerated.

Photo: Then First Citizens Bank chairperson Nyree Alfonso (right) and Minister of Finance and ex-First Citizens CEO Larry Howai. (Copyright Firstcitizenstt)
Photo: Then First Citizens Bank chairperson Nyree Alfonso (right) and Minister of Finance and ex-First Citizens CEO Larry Howai.
(Copyright Firstcitizenstt)

We are well aware that there may well be all sorts of valid reasons for insufficiency of evidence, the very least of which are questionable protections afforded to politically exposed persons.

The bald fact, however, is that nobody has so far been identified, convicted or incarcerated for criminal acts perpetrated on the bank.

Few are acutely aware that the transfer abroad of stolen capital by politically exposed persons and their agents acting on behalf of political institutions is a principal cause of economic underdevelopment and the seemingly ever-widening social divide between the rich and the poor.

Consequently, for some, it is unpalatable for a chief executive of a public financial institution to fold her hands with gentility, claiming nothing more than ignorance and an absence of malice about wrongdoing concerning (in)voluntary, fraudulent money laundering activities at the institution of which she is selected to be the chief steward.

No less so than it is for a former executive chairman, a current chairman or a board director to, like Pontius Pilate, take water and wash their hands before the crowd.

It is terribly important that citizens collectively take serious issue with banking secrecy rules, local conventions and manipulations that protect wrongdoers. These rules appear to be no less than wilful strategies fostering and promoting the flight of stolen local capital and, thereby, the country’s underdevelopment.

Photo: Protest in La Brea. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian/Rishi Ragoonath)
Photo: Protest in La Brea.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian/Rishi Ragoonath)

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9 comments

  1. Just wrong Justice should prevail for everyone irregardless of threats. Threats cannot be an excuse for an investigation being halted in any country I know, this is plain fraud and someone or many persons need to be held accountable starting with immediate firing of all persons who illegally halted the investigation. As well as a complete audit of all finances and a recovery of those finances by bringing in the right investigators

    • Earl Best

      “Threats cannot be an excuse for an investigation being halted in any country I know”

      Can’t argue with that. However, I have to take issue with the practicality of much of the rest. Ever heard about evidence-based action? Can authorities worthy of the name proceed otherwise than based on evidence?

  2. They’re just giving us bullshit to hold because some pardner hand in the cookie jjar.

  3. Where Nyree is corrupt practices thrive

  4. Maaann I feel we had a sham of an election in 2015 and maybe for many years now because the public always get trapped with the same non sense. It’s like the matrix and we keep running the same virus over and over hoping an anti virus comes along and save us.

    • “The Matrix is a system. That system is our enemy. These people are a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”:) 🙂 🙂

  5. And then every election, both blood sucking parties come on the platform and tell stupid trinis that they will put each other in jail. They are friends. Just imagine we will accept this with no questions asked.

  6. You mean “Get rich or die trying to put them in jail.”

  7. Trinidad motto should be “Get rich or die trying”