Moonilal gets extension to file defence in EMBD cartel-claim lawsuit

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal. – File photo by Angelo Marcelle

FORMER Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal has been granted a 28-day extension to file his defence in the Estate Management and Business Development Company Ltd’s cartel-claim lawsuit against him and several other contractors and former EMBD executives.

Justice Frank Seepersad granted the extension on May 14. Moonilal and the others had applied for an extension to file their defences in the multi-million dollar lawsuit against them pending the outcome of a special leave application at the Privy Council.

However, only Moonilal was successful since attorneys for the EMBD and the judge agreed there were issues “intricately tied” to the claims against him so “no useful purpose would be achieved if the rug is pulled relative to the contractors’ claims as it will have an impact on the case as it relates to the defendant.”

Moonilal’s defence now becomes due 28 days after the Privy Council rules on the challenge raised by the contractors, TN Ramnauth, Mootilal Ramhit and Sons Contracting Ltd, Fides Ltd and KallCo on April 30.

No date has yet been set by the Privy Council. Initially, he and the others had until March 20 to file his defence.

The contractors filed the special leave application after they were denied conditional leave by the Court of Appeal.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Seepersad raised concerns about the slow process of the case. He said it was the oldest matter on his docket.

“That is not an acceptable position …”

In earlier submissions, Jason Mootoo, SC, pointed out that while his client acknowledged the case against Moonilal was hinged on the contractors’ claim, the EMBD had no objection to his application for an extension.

However, he said with former divisional manager Madhoo Balroop and engineer Andrew Walker, the EMBD’s case was independent of the others.

“Let these defences come in.”

The judge agreed and ordered both men to file their defences by June 28.

Walker’s attorney Jayanti Lutchmedial-Ramdial said her client had prepared most of its defence and could have it done by the end of June, although two of the projects challenged in the appeal were connected to her client.

“If the appeal is successful, our argument is not that we cannot answer but it is a question of time and resources…But, I am prepared to file a defence and amend later on.”

Attorney Leon Kalicharan and Kelvin Ramkissoon who represent Balroop said their position was the same, and they had hoped to wait on the special leave application, but their client was prepared to file their defence by the end of June.

Attorney Roger Kawalsingh said his client, Namalco, filed its defence on March 20.

The matter has been adjourned to October 7. There was no order for costs on the extension applications since all the attorneys said they understood the need for the proper management of the case.

The matter before the Privy Council concerns a bid by some of the contractors to strike out the claims against them. They argue the Appeal Court misinterpreted and misapplied well-established law governing pleadings, the requirements of a party to plead fraud, dishonesty and bad faith, attribution of knowledge of companies in torts of unlawful means conspiracy, knowing receipt and dishonest assistance and well-established principles of law governing the duty of the court to strike out a claim of unlawful means conspiracy which does not plead all the elements of the cause of action.

In their ruling in January, Justices of Appeal Charmaine Pemberton, Peter Rajkumar and Vasheist Kokaram upheld a 2020 decision of Justice James Aboud to allow the EMBD’s case to proceed. In August 2020, Aboud dismissed preliminary applications by the five contractors to have the EMBD detail allegations against them so they could fairly mount their defence, or strike out the claims.

The substantive lawsuit centres around 12 contracts for the rehabilitation of roads and infrastructure granted to five contractors before the September 2015 general election.

The contractors had initiated proceedings against the state-owned special purpose company for the almost $200 million balance owed on their respective contracts.

The EMBD countersued the contractors, claiming they conspired with Moonilal, Parmassar, Balroop, and Walker to corruptly obtain the contracts.

The contractors are represented by separate teams of attorneys including Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, Jagdeo Singh, and Karina Singh. Michael Rooplal represents Moonilal. Also representing the EMBD are David Phillips, KC, Tamara Toolsie and Savitri Sookraj-Beharry.