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Dear Editor: Nelson legal quagmire started with Al-Rawi’s procedural error

“[…] The Vincent Nelson situation was not an intricate, and perplexing state of affairs nor was it complicated or difficult. From the very beginning, when Mr Nelson ‘outed’ others for an alleged legal fees kickback scheme, the former Attorney General ought to have frog-marched him out of his Chambers to the prosecuting agencies forthwith.

“[…] The Nelson ‘Immunity’ letter [in its construction] was not the appropriate course, in the first instance. Rather, at a procedural level, it ought to have been a ‘No Prosecute’ letter…”

The following Letter to the Editor on the collapsed corruption case against former attorney general Anand Ramlogan and Gerald Ramdeen, involving British attorney Vincent Nelson and former AG Faris Al-Rawi, was submitted to Wired868 by Ula Nathai-Lutchman, a UK-based international criminal barrister at law:

Photo: Minister of Local Government and former attorney general Faris Al-Rawi.
(via Office of the Attorney General)

I am fully supportive of the views of LATT and the Criminal Bar Association on the current Vincent Nelson legal quagmire. For the public, what it all means is that the Nelson indemnity has benchmarked a new legal contrivance: “Some are above the law”. That is a constitutional imbroglio!

What the public has been witnessing is the unravelling of the ‘legal briefs revolution’ spanning years, casting reasonable suspicion among the electorate of corrupt behaviours.

When I was a prosecutor in The Hague, special attention was given to the role of perpetrators of heinous war crimes to provide crucial evidence in the war crimes proceedings. The scope of ‘not prosecuting’ those perpetrators was within the mandate to try and convict those who bear the “greatest responsibility” for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Photo: Former UNC Attorney General Anand Ramlogan (centre) and Senator Gerald Ramdeen (far left) were charged with corruption.

The applicable principles were similar to those in the Criminal Procedure (Plea Discussion and Plea Agreement) Act of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Nelson situation was not an intricate, and perplexing state of affairs nor was it complicated or difficult. From the very beginning, when Mr Nelson “outed” others for an alleged legal fees kickback scheme, the former Attorney General ought to have frog-marched him out of his Chambers to the prosecuting agencies forthwith.

Amid the toing and froing over law about the complexities involved, party politics, democratic checks and balances, however, it remains the Nelson ‘Immunity’ letter [in its construction] was not the appropriate course, in the first instance.

Disgraced former British Queen’s Counsel Vincent Nelson.

Rather, at a procedural level, it ought to have been a ‘No Prosecute’ letter designed to preclude the prosecution of a person(s) suspected or accused of crimes contained in the form of a legislative act of State.

In other words, just assurances that ‘WE’ were not going to prosecute him. For swift and more certain justice, by way of example:

[Dear X, As the Director for the Office of the Prosecutor, I would like to take this opportunity to assure you that I have not laid any criminal charges, nor do I intend to lay any charges against you because of your affiliation with any parties that have been changed by this court.

I trust this letter may help put your mind at ease with regard to this matter.

Yours sincerely,]

Former attorney general Faris Al-Rawi (left) and fellow PNM Minister and attorney Stuart Young.

The effect of the collapsed corruption kickback case is that it might seriously blunt a useful tool (plea discussion and plea agreement) for ending or preventing political corruption cases.

It was a missed opportunity to unpack the corruption problem and warn high public officials that: no person, no matter how powerful, is above the law.

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12 comments

  1. “Governance ought not to be on autopilot”.

    I say no more.

  2. I do not understand the concern by LATT about the alleged collection of evidence by the AG for the purpose of prosecution by the DPP.

    Isn’t it the patriotic duty of every patriotic citizen to bring such information to the attention of the relevant authorities? “If you know something, say something”. The one caveat to the members of the public would be to not put themselves in danger, or interfere with the collection of evidence by the relevant authorities.

    What did Karl Hudson-Phillips do with respect to the Piarco Airport scandal? Was he not collecting evidence? Who appointed him to do so? Was it the DPP? What about Bob Lindquist and the Johnny O’Halloran matter? Did the DPP appoint him?

  3. The suggestion by LATT, and some others that the recommendation by the AG that Mr. Nelson be not charged given his cooperation in the alleged bribery scandal is an encroachment on the powers of the DPP is absurd. It was a recommendation, not an instruction or an attempt to instruct. Anyone is free to petition the DPP to that effect including members of the public. That is a democratic right that must be jealously guarded, in the interest of justice. It allows the DPP to give consideration to other views. He ought to be sufficiently robust to be not intimidated by those views if he does not agree with them. Such was the case in this instance as the DPP did not implement the recommendation of the AG.

  4. Under Section 76(2) of our Constitution, the AG is: “responsible for the administration of legal affairs in Trinidad and Tobago and legal proceedings for and against the State shall be taken in the case of civil proceedings in the name of the Attorney General”.

    There was, obviously , no conflict with the powers of the DPP under Section 90 of our Constitution, when the (civil) Indemnity Agreement (IA) was executed. It was made abundantly clear in the IA that the AG would RECOMMEND (not issue an INSTRUCTION) to the DPP that Mr. Nelson be not prosecuted in exchange for his testimony against the “duo”. The DPP chose to do otherwise as was his right so to do.

    Mr.Nelson is a legal luminary and, therefore, has a full appreciation of the respective powers of the DPP and the AG. He, therefore, executed a plea agreement with the DPP, as he was required to do in order to receive a much lighter sentence.

  5. Is Mr. Nelson some kind of weird masochist who is prepared to implicate himself in criminal activity, ruin his career, and risk going to prison, because he hates the”duo” so much – for whatever reason or for no reason at all – that he is prepared to fabricate evidence against them in order to tarnish their reputations and get them to serve prison sentences?

    Maybe Mr. Nelson’s cancer medication/treatment had something to do with his behaviour.

    I do not know, I am just asking questions!

  6. Mr. Nelson is a legal luminary. After all, he is a KC. He has received many legal briefs from the UNC-led Government. He is quite familiar with our legal system. Apart from seeking to get the best deal for himself, why did he go, initially, to the AG and not to the DPP?

    Mr. Nelson has expressed concerns about his security. Was he fearful that certain individuals in the Office of the DPP would have leaked information to the duo and, therefore, wanted his evidence to be documented and witnessed, formally and informally, outside of that office before executing a plea agreement with the DPP? Was he fearful that he would not have been treated seriously, and action would not have been taken or significantly delayed action would have been taken by the Office of the DPP if he had not first raised the matter with the AG, so that the matter could be closely monitored by the AG, and the necessary follow-up action taken on a timely basis?

    We simply do not know.

  7. Based on reports in the local press, Mr. Nelson has indicated that he is aware that 2 KCs, and a number of local Attorneys-at-Law have been involved in similar bribery schemes with the same “duo”. Mr. Nelson has mentioned names which were blocked in the relevant news reports. Albeit, Mr. Nelson has not offered any documentary evidence on this aspect of the matter. However, the authorities should thoroughly investigate his information. The FIU, the banking system, and the Integrity Commission are among those institutions that can render assistance, in this regard.

    If Mr. Nelson is proven to be true, then even Mr. Nelson might have no idea how deep this matter goes, and the extent to which many other politicians and members of the legal profession are involved. There may be many persons with cocoa in the sun for whom deflection as a strategy, undertaken even by innocent parties, whether intentional or otherwise, serves the best interests of miscreants.

    That is the real scandal on the horizon for the legal profession, if our worse fears prove to be true.

  8. Mr. Martin Daly, SC, indicated in a radio interview earlier today that in his estimation it will take 5 to 8 years for the civil case to be finally determined.

    In this regard, I am reminded that one of our calypso bards did say, sarcastically, in her calypso that: “There are no white-collar criminals in Trinidad. None.”

  9. Mr. Nelson has indicated his unwillingness to testify against the “duo” until the civil case related to the Indemnity Agreement is finally determined. That civil case has nothing to do with the “criminal matter”. There was a separate plea agreement made between the DPP and Mr. Nelson. There is, as serialised in the local press, an abundance of documentary evidence, including bank records. Why is the DPP not enforcing his plea agreement with Mr. Nelson? Mr. Nelson received a much lighter sentence in exchange for his testimony, and any other evidence against the “duo”, in any criminal proceedings pursued against them.

  10. I agree with Jaill that, “lost in space”, in the comments of our local legal luminaries, the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT), the Official Opposition, and some others on the so-called Nelson Vincent matter is the substantive issue of the allegation by Mr. Nelson that the then incumbent Attorney General and his sidekick (the duo), solicited and accepted bribes in exchange for State legal briefs. I wonder why the manifest skirting around the substantive issue?

  11. This letter is a quite sobering take on the issues at hand and not overloaded with political/ethnic biases that we have come to expect. While we are at it let’s not forget what sparked this firestorm now being dubbed the ‘Vincent Nelson matter’. An Attorney General (the second ranked office holder in the sitting Government) was allegedly handing out state briefs in exchange for kickbacks. Let’s just sit for a moment (more often than not conveniently left out of the discourse) and give this some thought.

  12. LieWarie as a descendant of profit Muhammad should have known better but what advice was given by Mendes and Peterson would be interesting