High Court judge Ricky Rahim

A real estate developer has lost her appeal over an investment company being allowed to sell her $19.5 million property to clear her debt from a failed upscale development in Champs Fleurs. Delivering an oral ruling yesterday, Appellate Judges Charmaine Pemberton and Vasheist Kokaram said that High Court Judge Ricky Rahim was right to certify the sale of Leonara Deslauriers’ multi-story commercial and residential property at Victoria Squarein Port-of-Spain to Guardian Defines Benefit Pension Fund Plan.

In the appeal, Deslauriers was claiming that the sale was not permitted under orders previously granted by Rahim, as he barred Guardian Asset Management (GAM) from bidding on it to drive down the price.

In its decision, the panel said the sale was in compliance, as GAM is not a beneficiary of the fund, which pays the pensions of its employees and those of its parent company Guardian Holdings. Pemberton also said Deslauriers could not complain over GAM’s efforts to sell the property to clear her debt, as there were five failed attempts since 2018, in which others expressed interest in the property but did not complete the sale.

She noted that the sale to the fund, at the minimum price set by Rahim, was proposed after no further interest was shown. “Any further delay preventing GAM from enjoying the fruits of its judgement is inequitable,” Pemberton said. The legal battle between Deslauriers and GAM stems from a $18.9 million loan that she and her husband David took to fund the Hevron Heights townhouse development at Mendez Drive, Champ Fleurs. The couple claimed that when GAM failed to advance them additional funds to complete the development in 2009, they suffered $25 million in losses with the property still incomplete.

The couple contended that the company failed to inform them that it could not lend further money, as it had a lending limit unlike other financial institutions.

While GAM admitted that it did not inform them of the lending limit, they claimed that the couple never revealed that additional funding would be required.

GAM’s case against the couple was upheld by Rahim, the Court of Appeal and the Privy Council, with GAM being granted permission to sell the incomplete development and the couple’s property at Victoria Square in order to clear the debt plus interest, which stood at over $36 million in 2018. During the course of their litigation, the couple claimed that the sale of the development could cover the loan without the need to sell the Victoria Square property.

The argument was rejected by the Privy Council, who pointed out that the couple’s valuation for the development was inflated, as it did not consider that potential buyers who made deposits on units would have to be repaid by the purchaser.

Deslauriers was represented by Ian Benjamin, SC, while Christopher Sieuchand represented GAM.