Vehicle importers sue the State for malicious prosecution

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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SAN FERNANDO-based vehicle and auto parts importer M Rampersad and Company and two of its owners have sued the State for malicious prosecution arising out of a series of customs charges laid against them in 2017. The charges were eventually dismissed when the prosecution admitted they should not have been charged in the first place.

The claim was filed on Friday and seeks a little over $1 million in compensation to recover attorney fees as well as general, aggravated, and exemplary damages. The company and its owners/directors Narish Rampersad and his wife Vashti, are represented by attorneys Jagdeo Singh, Michael Rooplal, Saira Lakhan, and Jamie Maharaj.

The Rampersads were arrested in February 2014, months after Customs and Excise officers raided the company’s premises at Hilda Lazzari Terrace, San Fernando, almost a year earlier, taking documents and vehicles.

Over several months, several of the imported vehicles, totaling 48, were seized, including auto parts.

Summonses were also issued for the couple’s company in Florida to provide documentation to aid in the division’s investigation to determine if a criminal offence had been committed. This

was challenged in the High Court and in 2020, Justice David Harris ruled that the request of the Comptroller of Customs to issue the subpoenas through the Central Authority of the Office of the Attorney General was “ultra vires.” This has since been appealed by the State.

The couple was charged in 2017, each with two customs charges of making false declarations. In June 2018, the charges were dismissed in the magistrates’ court after the prosecution admitted it had no documentary evidence to establish the charges since neither of the two signed declaration forms which were the subject of the complaints against them.

The couple and their company now contend these charges were laid maliciously and without reasonable and probable cause.

In their lawsuit, the couple and the company contend the comptroller of customs should have known there was no evidence to support the charges against them.

The Rampersads said not only have they suffered losses, humiliation, and embarrassment when the customs officers, along with heavily-armed police, raided the business on several occasions, seizing vehicles.

They said they will also provide evidence that the company suffered a decease in sales and has not recovered since then and want $1,073,126.75 to recover the money spent on legal fees since numerous letters were sent to the comptroller, including a pre-action protocol letter.

The couple now lives in Florida and the company has been in operation since 1987.

Newsday understands that all the seized vehicles were eventually returned after judicial review proceedings were filed.