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Steve Ferguson

A regional insurance company, which was implicated in fraud charges arising out of the construction of the $1.6 billion Piarco International Airport before being cleared three years ago, is seeking over $200 million in compensation for malicious prosecution.

In the lawsuit, which is seeking quite possibly the largest compensation in such a case in local history, Maritime Life (Caribbean) Limited are claiming that police acted without reasonable and probable cause and malice when its subsidiaries were implicated together with several businessmen, former government ministers, and public officials in 2004.

“From the outset of these proceedings in 2004 until their conclusion against the Claimant in 2017, the Claimant was prosecuted without an honest belief that there was a case to forward against it and/or, objectively viewed, without reasonable and probable cause,” the company’s said, in its statement of case, which was filed last Friday.

In the court filings, the company noted that it was never alleged that it was involved in the bid-rigging conspiracy over the airport.

It said its involvement was limited to its subsidiary Fidelity Finance and Leasing Company Limited holding money on deposit. Its former chief executive and chairman Steve Ferguson was also implicated.

To prove its claim that police did not have sufficient evidence against the companies when the charges were initiated, the company noted that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) successfully applied several times to amend the case and to add and remove charges during the protracted preliminary inquiry.

“Strikingly, the relevant Informations were amended after the evidence had been heard and the Prosecution had called its 52 witnesses and first closed its case…Even with that additional material, it was abundantly clear that there was no evidence that the Claimant had committed any criminal act and that there was no prospect of establishing a prima facie case against it,” the document stated.

It also suggested that the lack of reasonable and probable cause could be inferred from the fact that the charges against the company were dismissed after the magistrate in the preliminary inquiry upheld a no-case submission for it in 2017.

In the lawsuit, the company is also calling on the court to infer that the police also acted with malice, which is also an essential element of a malicious prosecution case.

It stated that the investigation into alleged corruption in the airport project began in 2000, while the United National Congress (UNC) were in Government.

The charges were only brought after the People’s National Movement (PNM) assumed office and was campaigning in the 2002 general election.

“The timing of the charges and the prominence given to the case was bound to have an effect on the election campaign, to the advantage of the PNM, and to the detriment of the UNC,” it said.

It also referenced public statements made by former prime minister Patrick Manning and several attorney generals that served under his tenure.

It also took aim at the fact that the investigation was conducted by a then newly-formed Anti-Corruption Investigation Bureau (ACIB), which fell under the purview of the Office of the Attorney General.

“Given the evident risk of political interference in criminal investigations, the establishment of the ACIB within the Ministry of the AG was the subject of extensive criticism by public figures including the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Commissioner of Police,” it noted, as it pointed out that in February 2019, the unit was moved under the control of the T&T Police Service (TTPS).

In the lawsuit, the company is claiming $218,920,000 in damages to cover losses that it sustained between 2004 and 2017 allegedly due to its implication in the case.

“If there is a serious loss of trust, reputation risks can quickly threaten a company’s very existence and this is what occurred in this case.

“As a result of the subsequent charges and the matters complained of above, the Claimant sustained further reputational damage, loss of business opportunities and substantial financial loss, the details of which will be provided separately,” it said, as it noted that an external report had been commissioned from an expert and would be provided to the court when the case goes to trial.

The company is also seeking $15 million in special damages to cover the legal costs it incurred in defending the charges for over a decade and for pursuing satellite legal issues that arose during the preliminary inquiry.

The claimed sum includes the cost of airline tickets and accommodation for foreign attorneys to make multiple appearances in the case.

The company has also claimed aggravated and/or exemplary damages for the arbitrary, oppressive, and unconstitutional by State agents in the case.

The company is being represented by Edward Fitzgerald, QC, Annette Mamchan, and Adam Hosein.