Friday, February 23, 2018

UTT bids to recover $8.4m from Julien and Monteil

Rev Pena's bill at Aripo guesthouse


big bill: The guesthouse in Heights of Aripo in which Rev Juliana Pena stayed.

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THE University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) has initiated legal action against its former president Prof Ken Julien, and former director Dr Rene Monteil to recover $8.4 million pertaining to their alleged part in accommodating Rev Juliana Pena at a UTT guesthouse in Aripo.

Attorney Varun Debideen, who is in chambers with Gerald Ramdeen, yesterday issued pre-action protocol letters to Julien and Monteil, for "loss and damage" suffered by the UTT when both allegedly authorised the stay of Pena and at least one companion, at a guest house previously leased by the institute for visiting professors and personnel.

Pena gained notoriety in 2010 as the spiritual adviser of then prime minister Patrick Manning, while both were embroiled in controversy over the funding of a $30 million church at Guanapo, of which Pena was to be the presiding minister.

Julien and Monteil are now being sought for the "wrongful letting" to Pena of the Aripo guest house, which had been leased from Consolidated Services Ltd (CSL), below the designated rates.

Pena's stay included three meals per day.

A copy of the pre-action protocol letter to Julien, which was obtained by the Sunday Express,stated:

"First, as a director of the Board of UTT you, together with Dr Rene Monteil, executed a sub-lease of the Aripo Guest House on behalf of UTT for a period of five years at a total cost of TT$8,420,000, made up as to (i) annual operating costs (including rental of TT$600,000 per annum) of TT$1,480,000 and (ii) capital expenditure of TT$1,020,000."

And further: "As a director acting prudently, you knew, or ought to have known, that prior to approving the execution of the agreement of the sub-lease by UTT, due diligence must be carried out to ascertain whether the sub-lease was prudent and one which ought to have been entered into by UTT.

"When you executed the sub-lease on behalf of UTT no adequate due diligence was carried out to ascertain whether the lessor had the right to grant the sub-lease to UTT. If such due diligence had been carried out, you, and the Board of eTecK, would have discovered that the Lease had expired and the Lessor had no right to lease the property of which the Aripo Guest House formed part."

UTT's legal adviser notified the institute of this around November, 2006, the letter stated, yet the sub-lease was not terminated until January 31st, 2011, incurring a sum in excess of $2.5 million.

It goes on to state:

"Thirdly, you failed to act honestly and in the best interest of UTT, in breach of section 99 of the Companies Act when you permitted the Reverend Juliana Pena to reside in the Aripo Guest House as your personal guest at rental rates which were exclusively applicable to UTT staff and not to personal guests. In summary, UTT asserts that you, as a member of the Board, are in breach of the duty of care and your duty to act honestly and in good faith owed to it pursuant to section 99 of the Companies Act Ch.81:01."

The damages being sought as a consequence are sum of the rental paid pursuant to the Sub-Lease and the operational costs of the Aripo Guest House (to include maintenance, security and staff costs), the difference between the UTT staff rates and the visitors' rates charged to Pena and consequential damages suffered.

"A review of the accommodation log maintained by the UTT Aripo Guest House confirms that with two exceptions, all visitors and staff were connected with the work of UTT," the letter stated.

"The two exceptions were Ms Pena and her companion. They were resident at the Aripo Guest House from 13 December, 2007, to 31 October, 2008 as your guests. There is no known association between Ms Pena and UTT and there is no indication that Ms Pena provided any services to UTT. There are no board resolutions approving UTT rates for Ms Pena and/or approving the accommodation of your personal guests in the Aripo Guest House."

The letter to Monteil is similarly phrased, with both being advised that they have a period of 28 days within which to respond or legal proceedings will be initiated against them without prior notice.

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan is currently abroad and could not be immediately reached for comment.