MADE MILLIONS: Businessman Gordon James at yesterday's sitting of the Commission of Enquiry into the collapse of CL Financial and HCU at the Winsure Building, Richmond Street, Port of Spain. —Photo: ANISTO ALVES

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$70m HANDYMAN

How a 'black man' from the 'ghetto' rose to riches at Hindu Credit Union

By Joel Julien joel.julien@trinidadexpress.com

HE entered the world of work as a handyman making minimum wage.

Then he met Hindu Credit Union (HCU) president Harry Harnarine.

Now 35-years-old, Gordon James is a multimillionaire businessman.

James's company, Gordon James Construction and Home Repairs Company Ltd, was paid over $70.9 million to complete seven "major building projects" for the HCU.

In 2004, the year after that company was incorporated, James earned $27.9 million from the HCU.

Between 2001 and 2006 the HCU deposited over $17.8 million to James's personal account.

The HCU still owes him over $3.5 million, James claims.

The commission of enquiry into the collapse of CL Financial and the HCU was yesterday told of James's rags to riches tale.

James yesterday took the witness stand at the enquiry being held at Winsure Building, Richmond Street, Port of Spain, after being a no show on Tuesday.

He was represented by attorney Peter Taylor, the former legal affairs minister in the People's National Movement.

James yesterday apologised to Sir Anthony Colman, the lone commissioner to the enquiry, for his absence on Tuesday.

James said the first job he ever had was as a handyman at the National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW).

Harnarine was the NUGFW's Industrial Relations Officer in charge of the Southern Division at the time.

When Harnarine was named the HCU's president he recruited James as a "marketing officer" in order to help build the credit union's membership.

James was fired from that job.

In 2002, James formed a company named 2002 Janitorial Services Limited and was hired by the HCU to clean and do maintenance work to their branches and subsidiaries.

That company is no longer in existence.

In 2003, James formed a second company entitled Gordon James Construction and Home Repairs Company Ltd along with his brother Dexter Davis and Kalam Shah Karamath.

He has a certificate in landscaping from the University of the West Indies.

By August 2003, they landed a contract valued at more than $18 million from the HCU.

James described the company as a "consortium" and said its accounts were a "clearing house" for the other businesses in group.

Between the period June 1, 2003 and May 9, 2005 Gordon James Construction was paid: $5.6 million for work at HCU's Jovi Water Park; $5.8 million for work at Shakti Foods; $18.69 million for work at the Food Corporation; $17.79 million for work at the Printing Press; $17.5 million for work at the Freeport Multipurpose Centre and $5.8 million at Orange Field.

James said HCU's Jovi Water Park was his idea and said he intended it to become a local Disneyland.

He told of his visits to Disneyland, Six Flags Great Adventure and Atlantic City so that he could make his dream of the park come to fruition.

Questioned by Stuart Young, the legal representative for Ernst and Young, James said he did not pay Corporation Taxes because he is a "small contractor".

Senior Counsel Deborah Peake told James, her client HCU liquidator Ramdath D Rampersad, was having problems renting the buildings because they were substandard.

Farid Scoon, the attorney for Harnarine, yesterday said the difficulties James faced were because he was a "black man" from the "ghetto" who had succeeded.

"You were like the head black man and people were surprised that you were a black man controlling all that money. $70 million a black man? A black man eat ah food," Scoon said.

James said he faced difficulties at the HCU because people were wondering if Harnarine was trying to "douglarise" the credit union.

Scoon read a document, taken from the Commissioner of Co-operative Development bundle, called "Indian time come" which stated "the unspoken policy in the HCU is to make money off of stupid n***ers".

Peake objected to Scoon's statement and called it both "irrelevant and offensive" and said it was "very unfortunate" that the "racial references were being made at the enquiry".

Scoon said the issue of race caused the financial run on the HCU and its eventual collapse.

Scoon described James as a "master builder who earned the food that he ate".

The enquiry continues today.

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