Lead Editor, Investigative Desk
Wealthy businessman Ainsley Gill and his wife are now on the radar of T&T Police Service for alleged land grabbing, fraud and collusion after Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat wrote to Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith early last month about sprawling beachfront property owned by the State at Damian Bay the businessman is now claiming as his own after removing several occupants who were living there for decades and allegedly demolishing their homes.
Gill is the CEO and Director of the Niquan Energy Group based in Point-A-Pierre and was a former Washington DC-based lobbyist under the Patrick Manning administration.
A two-week investigation on the matter was aired exclusively on Sunday night on CNC3’s Unspun, in which it was revealed that a bitter and contentious battle has now emerged between the Gills, the State and at least six occupants of the land who are also up in arms about Gill’s alleged strong-arm tactics to push them off the land, which is located along the North Coast Road in Maracas.
Some of the affected occupants include Wayne “Morgan” Thomas, Augustus “Mitan” Pierre, Gemma Celestine-Barrow, Phillip Romain, Kurt Celestine and Aldwyn Karimbocas, who all contend they have been collectively living on the Damian Bay land for over 150 years.
Wayne Thomas claims that sometime last year, after development work started at Damian Bay, he was allegedly offered $50,000 for his property but refused because the land was handed down to him by his grandfather and was of sentimental value to himself.
Augustus Pierre meanwhile said several of the land occupants pooled money together and Sabinus Constantine and Wendell Romain got a road cut through the undulating terrain on the fringes of the Damian Bay beachfront so they could access their houses.
“Ainsley Gill came in here about a year ago and promise to help fix the road and develop the place and everybody will live there nice. We did not know any better and we put up the money and cut the road so we could bring in agriculture and other goods. Gill came in and started to purchase from whoever. We welcomed him but then when he put up the electronic gate and he brought in security, he started to put out people their place,” Pierre claimed.
However, many of the landowners started to question where Gill got the authority to evict those already living there, demolish their homes and later pave a road and name it Anvaya Lane.
During CNC3’s Unspun investigation, documents were obtained which show that Gill bought 11.75 acres of the land from Sabinus Constantine and his plan was to build an eco-park in the area.
When Gill secured the sale of the land last September, his wife Trudy Gill sent letters bearing no letterheads or any legal undertaking in which she indicated to the land occupants that they had to vacate the land or comply with the rules set down. The letter said a private road was paved and access would only be through an electronic gate that the Gills constructed and only limited persons would be allowed access in their private vehicles. The Gills contended that when they bought the land from Constantine, the chattel buildings, together with all rights and title estate and interest in lands, comprising 11.75 acres.
However, checks during the Unspun investigation revealed that Damian Bay was state land under the State Lands Act. This meant that Sabinus Constantine did not have any rightful ownership of the land to be able to sell it in the first place.
Senior sources at the Land Settlement Agency (LSA) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries confirmed that Constantine had no legitimate documentation for the land.
Constantine was contacted via WhatsApp and phone more than a week ago about the land sale and if he had any legitimate documents to prove the land was his. He read the WhatsApp messages, as indicated by a blue tick, but did not respond.
Despite this, the sale of the land went ahead on September 19, 2020 and the Gills submitted, as part of a dossier to Commissioner of State Lands Bhamanti Seecharan, a sale agreement with Constantine for the purchase of the 11.75 acres. They also showed sale agreements for purchasing a building near the beachfront from Joseph Arnasalam for $1 million and in August last year, a two level-house from Anthony and Michelle Constantine for $400,000.
What was of particular interest in Constantine’s sale agreement was a note which read: “The chattel building and the lands occupied by the vendor is owned by the state.”
On November 20, 2020, Trudy Gill wrote to the Commissioner of State Lands indicating she had purchased the 11.75 acres in Damian Bay for the development of an eco-park and was seeking a 99-year-lease.
Five days later, the Commissioner of State Lands responded stating, “The matter was forwarded to the relevant unit for investigation and you will be notified of our findings.”
But after these purchases, things took a turn for some of the other occupants like Thomas, Pierre, Celestine-Barrow and Kurt Celestine.
Thomas claimed in early March he got a devastating phone call.
“I got a call that my house was demolished and carried away. Nobody ever called me about this and what was taking place on my property – is a police security guard and you are being bullied. They took everything from my house. I do not know where it went,” lamented Thomas.
Pierre also claimed he had a life-threatening experience.
“They came to survey by me and I started acting up and I asked who authorise this and I saw no documents to warrant this and they said it came from the Commissioner of State Lands. I said I was not notified. I started getting on and grab up two bottles, to be honest. They call security and they subdue me and one of the officers says he could shoot me because I have a weapon and they started to rough me up and subdued me for the surveying to go on,” Pierre claimed.
Gemma Celestine-Barrow also claimed the possessions in her house were removed several weeks ago and she was never allowed back onto her land. She said the police reports she made to the Maracas Bay Police Station were also in vain, as no action was taken even when she tried to get back onto the land with the police.
Barrow claimed Gill kept telling her to get off the land, indicating he had purchased it and he was willing to give her “$25,000 for the pain of it all.”
Celestine-Barrow’s granddaughter, Monique Fournillier, challenged Gill’s claim and responded to his text, telling him he needed to show a deed or a deed of comfort for the land. Gill never did.
“He texts saying I have to leave the land and it is now his and I have to vacate. He told me to talk to the Commissioner of State Lands and he is putting up a gate and my only access is through him. I had no access to my property and I had to go to the police,” Celestine-Barrow told Unspun as she broke down in tears.
Aldwyn Carimbocas said he has been living on the land near Damian Bay since the 1970s and all he wants is to be treated fairly.
“I would like for them to remove the gate so we can have access. We have to walk with our fish and ice. They stop us from driving on the beach because of the turtles. I used to have access through that road with my van and reach close to my home but now I cannot do that,” Carimbocas said.
Upset with the situation, Carimbocas’s daughter penned a letter to Minister Rambharat in December last year outlining the situation they faced.
Rambharat told Unspun that he visited Damian Bay in October 2020 and requested the Director of Surveys to conduct occupancy surveys on the site and said he later received letters from persons claiming to be affected by the Gills’ development.
Rambharat said he met with the Gills in January 2021 and received a bundle of documents relating to Trudy Gill’s “acquisition” of state lands at Damian Bay. Rambharat said he also spoke to the affected occupants on the same day.
Rambharat said,”I spoke to the lawyer for Trudy Gill that night and the next day wrote to him challenging the documents that he prepared for Trudy Gill which she was using to claim ownership of the state land.”
The Land Management Division, which is under Rambharat’s ministry, also completed a report on the matter on January 29 this year that was also obtained during Unspun’s investigation. One of the things highlighted in the report was that the “Gills were constructing a retaining wall along the coastline using concrete and metal piles. Upon further inquiry, it was revealed that they do not possess the necessary statutory approvals for the construction of the same.” They were told to seek the necessary permission.
The report also suggested “that relevant notices should be served accordingly, further investigation should be carried out on the seawall being constructed, and necessary action be taken according to state land policy and whether or not any consideration should be given to the Gills’ application for the parcel of lands.”
In February, Rambharat sought clarity on what had been happening with the matter. In the correspondence, which Unspun obtained, it was clear that Damian Bay was state land since 1943 and remains so to date. Senior sources inside the Land Settlement Division told Unspun that based on the evidence they uncovered, Damian Bay belonged to the state and no one had any legitimate claim to sell the land.