Businessman Steve Ferguson. –
MIAMI-DADE Circuit Court judge Reemberto Diaz has entered final judgment for US$131,318,840.47 – an estimated TT$1 billion – to be paid to the Government by former minister Brian Kuei Tung and businessmen Steve Ferguson and Raul Gutierrez Jr over criminal conduct linked to the construction of the Piarco Airport development project almost three decades ago.
“The final judgment amount in favour of plaintiff against defendants Steve Ferguson, Brian Kuei Tung, and Raul Gutierrez, Jr is joint and several,” Diaz’s order reads.
“The final judgment amount shall continue to bear interest at 6.58 per cent commencing on the day following entry of this final judgment, through and including the date on which defendants Steve Ferguson, Brian Kuei Tung, and Raul Gutierrez, Jr satisfy the final judgment amount.”
The interest rate will be adjusted annually “in accordance with the interest rate in effect on January 1 of each year as set by the chief financial officer until the judgment is paid,” the three-page document says.
The judge’s order is that the three are to pay US$97,157,964, which constitutes treble damages of the jury verdict amount of US$32,385,988, plus US$38,792,567.72 prejudgment interest on the jury verdict amount.
Former government minister Brian Kuei Tung. –
These sums are minus US$4,631,691.25, which constitutes a setoff from paid settlements and restitution from former defendants in the matter.
Rural Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi, who took over the Miami case ten years ago and retained it when Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, was disqualified from representing TT in the case earlier this year, held a media conference to announce the judge’s entering of the final judgment.
He said in a matter of days, the State will begin enforcement proceedings, once the three defendants declare their assets, as they are required to do under US law, which will be traced.
“We are on track to recovery.”
Al-Rawi said the recovery of the restitution owed to TT would run separately from any appeal the three chose to lodge.
The three have 30 days from Monday to file an appeal and will be required to post a bond for the full amount awarded by the jury, along with two years’ worth of interest, if they choose to challenge the recovery process.
Former Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi. –
Al-Rawi said the US court heard evidence of guilt and actual confessions from former defendants, some of whom have already paid restitution and served time in federal prisons in the US when they pleaded guilty to their roles in the fraud conspiracy.
“After 19 years of litigation, there is final judgment,” Al-Rawi said. “Congratulations to the people of TT.”
On April 28, Diaz dismissed the motions by Kuei Tung and the others who challenged the multi-million-dollar verdicts against them. The three had asked for the jury’s verdict of March 29 to be set aside and for a new trial.
They were denied by Diaz.
Ferguson further objected to the entry of TT’s proposed final judgment. His brief says he believes no final judgment is appropriate. He has also argued that given that TT has declined to produce evidence to substantiate setoff payments, any proposed final judgment would be without proper evidentiary foundation.
The brief, argued before the judge, also said Ferguson identified three fundamental errors in the proposed final judgment.
He claimed TT received setoff payments doubling what it stated in the proposed final judgment, and the proposed final judgment included prejudgment interest when it should not have. He also contends that the proposed final judgment includes trebling of damages, when, according to the brief, TT “repeatedly told the jury that it only wants $32,385,988, and “not a penny more.”
“The jury took the RTT (Republic of Trinidad and Tobago) at its word and gave exactly what the RTT sought, $32,385,988. The RTT cannot now seek a judgment that substantially exceeds its repeated representation to the jury.”
Attorneys for TT had asked the judge to enter final judgment against the three of US$131,403,245.64.
According to TT’s motion for final judgment, the US$97,157,964 represents treble damages of the jury’s verdict in the amount of US$32,385,988 against the three on March 29.
The racketeering charges were filed under the US’s Racketeering and Influence Corruption Organisation Act (RICO).
While the bulk of the judgment is related to the jury’s award, TT is also asking for US$38,876,972.89, which constitutes prejudgment interest, minus the US$$4,631,691.25 set off from paid settlements and restitution by other defendants years ago.
TT’s attorneys White and Case filed an amended draft of the final judgment on April 17.
The State’s amended motion for the entry of the final judgment said the damages awarded by the jury “comprised…the amount of overcharges incurred by the Republic as a result of the defendants’ fraudulent scheme to overcharge the Republic for two construction contracts and a maintenance contract related to the Piarco International Airport project.”
The motion also said during the month-long jury trial, TT had established that its loss occurred on or before May 28, 2004.