Former prime minister Patrick Manning and his one-time spiritual adviser Juliana Pena have been cleared of any "criminal misconduct" in the construction of a multi-million dollar church — the Lighthouse of Our Lord Jesus Christ — in the Heights of Guanapo, off Arima.
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard SC made public his decision last night in the matter which was used by the People's Partnership as one of its campaign weapons in 2010 general election.
Gaspard, in a seven-page press release, however, noted that according to the police, a forensic audit is being undertaken into the matter, on behalf of the Integrity Commission.
"If any new and cogent evidence were to be brought to my attention, I undertake to re-visit this matter," Gaspard stated.
It was Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in her capacity as Opposition Leader, who had referred the matter to the DPP on May 15, 2010, one week before the country was heading to the polls, calling upon him to initiate a probe on the following grounds:
(i) whether the then prime minister Patrick Manning corruptly or unlawfully interfered in the granting of State Lands and other related approvals to the church or for its construction;
(ii) whether State funds were used for/on in the construction of the church;
(iii) whether Calder Hart (then chairman and executive director of the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago) corruptly procured the Shanghai Construction Group and others to design and construct the church; and
(iv) whether the building constructed at the Heights of Guanapo was initially designed as the Outdoor Stage Project of the Prime Minister's house as part of the Prime Minister's residence and relatedly, whether the cost of the church was factored into the cost of the Prime Minister's residence.
Gaspard noted that while his Office does not have the constitutional mandate or remit to investigate criminal wrongdoing, he instructed the police to commence an investigation.
Having consulted legal advice both locally and abroad, as recently as February 4 on the police file, Gaspard highlighted the importance of informing the public of the reasons for his decision.
Neither Manning nor Pena were interviewed by police during their investigations "since the police appear not to have any evidence which would afford reasonable grounds for suspecting that they may have committed any offence arising out of this matter".
The police investigations show that Manning had an interest in the construction of the church on State lands and had even visited the site and made suggestions for the design of the building. He also chaired Cabinet meetings which approved the granting of State lands for the project.
"There is no admissible evidence the that the former prime minister played any further role in the matter. Even if he did try to ensure that an application such as this one was not delayed, that is not an offence," Gaspard stated.
In relation to the role played by Hart, the evidence unearthed noted that it was he who introduced Pena to an architect, who agreed to design the church as a charitable act.
Police investigations also revealed that Shanghai Construction Group, the same Chinese company contracted to build the Prime Minister's residence at La Fantasie and Diplomatic Centre, began construction of the church.
Michael Zhang, the company's director, had been asked by Hart to assist Pena and Zhang agreed to build the church at cost price "by way of an act of goodwill to the people of Trinidad and Tobago," the release stated.
Work on the project, which began on January 21, 2010, halted after Pena failed to pay Zhang as agreed, and Zhang claims that UDeCOTT still owes him money for work done on other projects. The project was left abandoned and subsequently fell prey to scrap iron scavengers.
"Thus, Mr Zhang's evidence all but strangles any allegation that State funds were used for or in the construction of the church," the DPP's statement said.