Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has initiated legal action against former Miss Universe Wendy Fitzwilliam.
Fitzwilliam, former vice president/general manager Business Development at Evolving Technologies and Enterprise Development Company Ltd (e TecK) has been joined as a defendant in a lawsuit filed against the company’s former board of directors by Ramlogan.
Also named as a defendant in the amended lawsuit is the company’s former manager, Business Development John Soo Ping Chow.
Fitzwilliam is being accused of failing to properly advise the directors on whether to enter into a $30 million investment in 2005 with China-based Bamboo Network Ltd (BNL).
Soo Ping Chow is being accused of failing in his accounting duties related to BNL, and failing to properly advise the company’s board on the prudence of the investment, given the alleged absence of audited accounts for BNL.
The amended lawsuit was filed January 17, which means the State is now going after eight former e TecK officials, including its chairman Prof Kenneth Julien and directors Ulric McNicol, Prof Brian Copeland, Dr Rene Monteil, Eugene Tiah and Sonia Noel.
Contacted by telephone last Thursday, Fitzwilliam said: “I think it’s before the courts now and has been for quite some time. I think the matter has been thrown out at the Appeal Court level. I’m not sure. I’m just getting on top of it. So it’s before the courts. I will have lots to say when this is done, but not now. It’s before the courts”.
The initial lawsuit was initiated by Ramlogan in June 2011 arising out of an investment in China-based BNL, in 2005, to develop e TecK’s information technology business venture as part of the former People’s National Movement (PNM) administration’s diversification of the downstream industries.
The claim alleged that the six board members failed to ascertain whether the investment with BNL was prudent and in the interest of the company or the country and that BNL failed to perform any of its obligations under the agreement arrived at by the board led by Julien.
It is also being alleged that BNL failed to return the invested sum of US$5 million (TT$30 million) despite several requests by e TecK.
At a media conference at his Port of Spain office in 2011, Ramlogan said a forensic team which included investigator Bob Lindquist had uncovered what he alleged was a lack of “due diligence” by the board members, which led to a massive financial haemorrhage.
Ramlogan said the most “startling discovery” was the lack of proper legal or financial due diligence into the nature of the investment that the board agreed to.
“That money disappeared into a black hole,” Ramlogan alleged.
The forensic team uncovered that e TecK formed an alliance with BNL in 2004, which was a small nationally managed software company in Hong Kong.
Ramlogan said when the e TecK team visited Hong Kong, they discovered several companies bearing that same name.
Ramlogan said when they returned with that information, the Ministry of Finance “in the strongest possible terms” advised e TecK not to invest in BNL.
The Finance Ministry highlighted BNL’s short track record, poor financial state and lack of proper management structure as the main reason to end the investment proposal.
“Notwithstanding this advice from the Ministry of Finance, e TecK proceeded apace,” he claimed.
Ramlogan said e TecK felt BNL had a successful Japanese operation in a growing market and had strong financial backing from Tiger Management, an investment group.
“Contrary to what was stated there, the probe team found no evidence whatsoever to substantiate this. There is no evidence of any Japanese operation owned or operated by Bamboo, nor have we seen any document evidencing any due diligence to reveal same,” he said.
“We have not been able to locate any fund under the name Tiger Technologies, while Tiger Management was an investment fund of some considerable significance, it was wound up in 2000,” he said.
“When one connects the dots, there is a lot left to be desired,” he said.
In December 2012, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Julien and other members who comprised the board he led, in a procedural appeal filed in the lawsuit brought against them by Ramlogan.
As a consequence, the State was ordered to pay $55,000 in legal costs to Julien and former directors Monteil, Copeland, McNicol, Tiah and Noel.
The former board members, on March 2, 2012 had filed an application before Justice Devindra Rampersad seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed on the basis that it was filed out of time.
Rampersad, however, said it would be better to have the issue addressed during the substantive trial since it appeared the evidence provided by the former board members was insufficient to justify the matter being dismissed at that stage.
Attorneys for Julien and the others contended that Rampersad’s finding was wrong in law and that there was in fact unequivocal and unchallenged evidence on which the application was based.
Justice Nolan Bereaux, in a judgment delivered last December and endorsed by Justice of Appeal Humphrey Stollmeyer, said Rampersad was plainly wrong to have deferred consideration of the issue. Bereaux said the matter must be referred to Rampersad for him to consider it.