THA gets freezing orders against British Virgin Islands company in zipline lawsuit

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Kevin Ramcharan. – Judiciary of TT

THE TOBAGO House of Assembly has received two freezing orders against the directors of Original Canopy Tours Enterprises Ltd – one in TT and another in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), where it is based – ahead of its lawsuit for US$416,900 for alleged breach of contract in the 1.5 kilometre zipline project planned for the Main Ridge Forest Reserve.

One order was granted against Richard Graham and Darren Hreniuk of Original Canopy Tours by Justice Kevin Ramcharan on November 5. The other was granted on Thursday by Justice Gerhard Wallbank in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court’s commercial division for the High Court of the BVI.

The freezing orders restrain the two from directly or indirectly removing from TT, the BVI, and the US assets held in a First Citizens Bank account in Scarborough and in a first Caribbean International Bank account in Tortola, up to US$500,000, which is the value of the THA’s claim.

The two freezing orders mirror each other, but the one in the BVI allows the two to spend US$5,000 each week towards their living expenses and US$170,000 to defend the proceedings in that court and in Trinidad and Tobago.

“Before spending any money, the respondents must tell the applicant’s legal representatives where the money is to come from including the bank account and the source of the funding.

“The respondents may agree with the applicant’s legal representatives that the above spending limits should be increased or that this order should be varied in any other respect, but any agreement must be in writing.

“This order will cease to have effect if the respondents provide security in an amount

to be agreed with the applicant’s legal representatives and make payment of that sum into court to be held to the order of the court,” the BVI order reads.

The two men are also restrained from changing ownership of any shares they have in any company in the BVI.

The THA filed the claim against the company in November 2021. It seeks loss and damages for breach of contract “as a result of the defendant’s failure to deliver all materials and equipment to the claimant” as well as failure to comply with the services agreement between the parties.

Former chief secretary Ancil Dennis told a PNM political meeting he had instructed the chief administrator, the Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation, and senior state counsel to “lawyer up” and take the matter to court, as his administration spent months looking at the zipline issue.

At the time, he said the THA was going to pursue it to the “very end” to ensure the truth was revealed and that the assembly was able to recover damages for the failure to deliver on the project for the people of Tobago.

In 2015, the zipline project was announced by former tourism secretary Tracy Davidson-Celestine, but was never completed, despite the THA’s spending $2.5 million on it.

Former tourism secretary Nadine Stewart-Phillips, who succeeded Davidson-Celestine, previously revealed the project comprised 12-14 platforms and 11-13 lines, including a special observation platform for birdwatchers and photographers. She said the Executive Council approved $4 million for the project, which was expected to be completed within seven weeks of the materials arriving on site.

A service agreement, she said, was signed in June 2015 between the THA and Original Canopy Tours Enterprises Ltd to design, develop and construct a high-angle canopy tour course. Stewart-Phillips said representatives of the company visited Tobago in September 2015 to map out the course, and the division paid two of the four payments under the signed agreement.

In the campaigning ahead of the January 2021 THA election, now THA chief secretary Farley Augustine raised the issue, saying Davidson-Celestine had to answer to taxpayers on the failed project.

Augustine claimed a 2016 auditor general’s statement expressed concern over the project, noting a visit to the stores section of the tourism division revealed only some ropes on hand.

“Imagine that we spent $2.5 million and the only thing the auditor general could find was some rope. Now that must be the most expensive piece of rope in the world,” he said then.

The THA is being represented by John Jeremie, SC, Timothy Affonso, and instructing attorney Shivana Lalla.