A private investigator and a corporate secretary were the National Gas Company’s first two witnesses in its claim against contractor Super Industrial Services (SIS) and Rain Forest Resorts Ltd (RFRL) in which it is seeking to have the court declare that four mortgages and a debenture were “sham” transactions intended to frustrate creditors, including NGC.
The NGC is seeking to have the mortgages and the debenture set aside. Justice Joan Charles is presiding over the trial which began in the Port of Spain High Court, yesterday.
According to NGC’c corporate secretary Maria Thorne, the NGC has suffered prejudice because of the mortgages and debenture by SIS in favour of RFRL.
She was questioned extensively by RFRL’s attorney Neil Bisnath on what she meant by the claim of “prejudice.”
Thorne said the mortgages were “highly unusual” as no interest was paid on them nor was any payment passed under them and the properties for the mortgages were encumbered and put beyond NGC’s reach.
SIS’ assets are central to an arbitration claim against it by NGC over the termination of the contract for the failed Beetham Water Treatment Plant for $400 million. The state-owned gas company has already received a freezing order against SIS up to the value of $180 million and an injunction restraining RFRL from dealing with any of the property or assets charged by the mortgages and the debenture.
The dispute between the parties started in 2015 after delays in the US$162,055,318.77 project, which was due to be completed on October 21, 2016.
The contract was eventually terminated on November 24, 2016, after SIS reportedly informed NGC it was unable to continue with the work.
NGC’s attorney, Deborah Peake, SC, in opening the case, said “sham instruments” were created for the mortgages and the debenture and the court must determine why SIS executed the four deeds and registered them to RFRL.
According to her, it is NGC’s claims that the transactions were done to hinder and defraud the company, and not a loan as contended and questioned why SIS chose to bypass local banks and registered financial institutions for RFRL, which “never carried on a business” and was a company on paper only.
“It is clear the intent was that any creditor would be hindered from enforcing judgment against SIS…There can be no dispute NGC was a creditor of SIS,” she said.
“NGC, as judgment creditor, would have to stand in line, second to RFRL,” she said, adding that the transactions were “strange and suspicious” since no properties were transferred although SIS and RFRL claimed this was done.
Also testifying yesterday was private investigator Benson Harripersad who said he received instructions to investigate the location and scope of operations of RFRL.
He said he visited certain premises and held conversations with certain people at those locations and saw no signs related to RFRL there and after looking for offices, and found none, he formed the opinion that there was no staff and that RFRL as not operational up to May 2019, when he last visited the location in Chaguanas.
Senior Counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and Navindra Ramnanan are representing SIS while Jason Mootoo is also representing NGC.
Also expected to testify on behalf of SIS is its consultant and director Krishna Lalla via video-conferencing and Justice Charles has ordered that all SIS and RFRL’s witnesses are not to be present in court during his testimony, even if they are the companies’ representatives, as NGC has contended, as part of its claim of fraud, that the parties of the companies were in collusion.
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