Foster goes after Lutchmedial for disclosing private financial information

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Foster Cummings –

YOUTH Development and National Service Minister Foster Cummings is demanding UNC Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial stop what he claims is misusing his private and confidential information for her own political gain.

He also wants her to disclose all and any private and confidential documents which she may have belonging to him.

For a second time in as many weeks, the minister initiated legal action against the UNC senator, accusing her of “relentlessly” tarnishing his name.

In an immediate response, Lutchmedial said “that the minister would prefer to spend his time trying to intimidate me with lawsuits instead of answering the questions posed…It cannot be that we are satisfied with a ‘different strokes for different folks’ approach.

“I am entitled to raise questions in the public interest.”

She said having worked at the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and being trained in anti-money-laundering compliance, she was very concerned about what she saw in the documents.

“Many people can relate to the challenges they face when conducting business with a financial institution due to all the laws and regulations. Small business owners cannot even get accounts opened,” she added.

On the request by Cummings’ lawyers for her to disclose whatever else she had, she said, “The minister appears worried and wants to know what else I have on him.”

Lutchmedial is already facing a defamation claim Cummings filed last Friday over statements she made at the UNC’s Monday Night Forum on May 5, releasing the contents of a Special Branch report on the minister.

Cummings, who is also the La Horquetta/Talparo MP, is now taking issue with Lutchmedial’s use of financial records on the same platform on May 16.

She also posted documents on her Facebook page the next day.

His attorneys gave the UNC senator until 1 pm on Thursday to remove any video or publication; issue an apology and public retraction; undertake not to repeat the statements, and give a reasonable proposal of compensation for damages to Cummings’ reputation and good name.

At the Monday Night forum, Lutchmedial raised questions over a public entity’s payment of $1.8 million into the credit union account of a high-ranking public official.

She said the payment was disclosed in a source-of-funds declaration form. Lutchmedial said the form was leaked, along with two letters of award from the public body, plus the personal identification of a woman involved in the transaction.

The senator said a cheque from the public body was also uncovered and it was made out directly to the credit union. The letters of the award were made out to a relative of the public official and were provided to support the declaration, Lutchmedial said. She said the letters of the award were in the sum of $1.1 million.

She said the matter should attract the attention of the Prime Minister, the Financial Intelligence Unit, and the police.

One of Cummings’ lawyers, Jennifer Farah-Tull, said the information was private and confidential but was disseminated by Lutchmedial with “no concern for how a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities would feel if placed in the same position as our client.”

The attorney added, “You knew that the information was private and confidential but exercised calculated ignorance so as to further your selfish political agenda in reckless disregard to the harm it would cause to our client and his family. Your pattern of behaviour is malicious and intentional and done with the aim to cause as much harm to our client as you possibly could.”

Farah-Tull said the documents referenced by Lutchmedial contained the minister’s home address, national ID card number, date of birth, occupation, telephone number, and Venture Credit Union account number.

“Prior to your verbal publication of this information, no attempts were made to validate with our client regarding their content or authenticity. There were no factual determinations or appropriate contextual background made but merely speculation publicly raised by yourself, to encourage scandal and odium. You willfully mislead and invited members of the public to further speculate on the details of the financial transactions between our client and a reputable financial institution.”

She also said Lutchmedial, as an attorney who also worked with the FIU, ought to have known the source-of-funds document was private and confidential and such personal information ought not to have entered the public domain and been left for public consumption.

“Our client held a reasonable expectation that his personal, private, and confidential information between himself and his financial institution would remain private.”

She also told Lutchmedial despite already being subject to one defamation claim, she “again maliciously and falsely made several defamatory statements targeted towards our client” and, “it is clear that you have very little respect for the judicial process as your actions are now becoming outrageous and dangerous.”

Farah-Tull continued, “Our client has since suffered loss and damage by the misuse of his private information. He and his family members’ lives have been placed at significant risk and (this) has caused them much fear and anxiety. The statements made and documents published were malicious in their intent, inaccurate, misleading and a blatant misuse of our client’s private information.”

Lutchmedial has said threats of legal action against her by Cummings will not silence her or stop her from asking questions.

Cummings is represented by a team of attorneys from the law firm Hove and Associates.