Attempt to scam PM over Gates Foundation grant

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

File photo: Dr Keith Rowley.

THE PRIME Minister has admitted there is no grant for Trinidad and Tobago forthcoming from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

On Sunday, after his return from Guyana, Dr Rowley announced that TT was “lucky to be identified for a not-insignificant share of some funding” from the foundation.

At the time, Rowley said he had spoken to the Secretary General of the UN, who “identified us for that gift that we will accept and put to good use.”

But on Monday, in a Facebook post on the Office of the Prime Minister’s official page, Rowley said certain interactions with the number assigned to the UN secretary general on his mobile phone made him suspicious. He also conferred with the chairman of Caricom on the messages he received about the disbursement of the funds.

He concluded, “Please be advised that I am satisfied that there is no grant but that there is a brazen attempt to scam countries through the use of impersonation and identity theft.

“I will be referring this matter to the TT police service and all other relevant authorities.”

In his statement on Monday, Rowley said while h was in Guyana, the Caricom chairman told him the UN secretary general wanted to reach him and other Caricom heads to advise “us that he had received a substantial grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to be distributed among us in its ongoing poverty alleviation program.

“I returned a call to the Secretary General on Sunday (whose number and profile picture I have on my phone). I thought nothing unusual of this up to this point since the Gates Foundation had made grants to TT at least twice before. This being so I mentioned at the press conference on Sunday that I was advised that we are to be allocated another grant as described. Today, I attempted to speak to the SG on the number I was carrying on my phone but was only able to communicate by WhatsApp and not voice.

He reported that someone “purporting to be the SG” tried to get him to use a foreign bank to access this grant, but said there would be a “significant” processing fee.

The prime minister said his suspicion was further aroused when the person on the other end tried to get him to make a substantial deposit in a Chinese bank as a prerequisite for receiving the grant.

“Having requested and not receiving any documentation and being contacted (with) a familiarity not normally associated with the Office of the SG I was now convinced that this was a most brazen scam being run in the shocking manner as described.

He then checked with the chairman of Caricom, he said.

“He forwarded a stream of WhatsApp messages purporting to be coming from the Secretary General attempting to reinforce the confidence trick, through the involvement of this other high office,” he said.

In April, the cyber security incident response team of the Ministry of National Security warned of increased cyberattacks in TT and the region, targeting local and regional entitities.