Source: Trinidad Express
FORMER CL Financial chairman Lawrence Duprey says he and other shareholders have a plan to repay billions of dollars used to rescue failed insurance company CLICO.
Speaking on behalf of the shareholders he represents, he told the Sunday Express in a lengthy interview yesterday he will repay taxpayers and “all stakeholders” who are owed money by the now Government-controlled financial institutions, which once comprised the CL Financial conglomerate.
In a telephone interview from Florida, he said: “We have presented a credible proposal and we are awaiting a reply from [Finance Minister Colm Imbert]. That’s why everything is at a standstill because we are awaiting a reply from the Ministry of Finance.”
Government took control of the insurer and its spin-off group of companies in 2009 in what was then a $5 billion cash bailout package amid the financial crisis of the time, saying the failure of the companies posed a systemic risk to the economy.
Taxpayer money spent on the companies snowballed to exceed $20 billion over the past two governments.
“The Government will welcome any credible offer from any one or amalgam of groups of shareholders of CL Financial to repay the outstanding debt.
“As I said, there was a heads of agreement signed by [former Finance} Minister (Larry) Howai which referred to $19.6 billion. Our books show $24 billion, so we need to sit down with CL Financial.
“The Government needs to bring in auditors, determine what the true facts are, what is the number, and then we can entertain any credible offer coming from these gentlemen with respect to repayment of taxpayers money,” Minister Imbert said at an April 28 post-Cabinet news briefing in Port of Spain when asked for his views on a letter Duprey sent to him in March.
Told that Duprey said he had presented a credible proposal to repay taxpayers and regain control of CLICO and CL Financial, Imbert was asked yesterday if that was also his assessment of Duprey’s communication to the Finance Ministry.
Via text message, Imbert responded: “[I] haven’t seen it yet. Maybe it was before my time or maybe he submitted it to someone else, such as the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. I’ll check.”
Asked whether he had a final number to clarify whether taxpayers were owed $19.6 billion or $24 billion, Minister Imbert said, “Not yet, in about three weeks.”
Imbert said he was working with auditors from Ernst & Young to determine the final figure.
The Trinidad Express further pressed Duprey to explain his proposal to repay Government the taxpayer money spent bailing out CLICO and CL Financial.
Duprey said it proposes “to pay off everything, all the stakeholders”.
He however could not day whether the payment would be made in cash or in bonds.
“Well, we can’t define what it is now. It all depends on the deal that we can strike with the Government. We can, but we would like to pay them off one way or the other.”
First, however, Duprey said, “We need to get control of the company, and we need to know exactly how much is owed to the Government. We have not been able to get something in writing from them as yet.
“A lot of it has been just talk and newspaper articles, but we have not gotten anything. At least I have not seen anything that’s written on official Government paper of how much the obligation is.”
Working with the lowest available figure, cited in the Howai-signed heads of agreement — $19.6 billion — Duprey was asked if he had that sum.
“That’s no problem. Whatever the amount is, we will work [out] a resolution plan, as has been done in many countries with other companies. The most recent one was Austria.”
On the new group launched last week, the Clico Stakeholders Alliance (CSA), which said it would support Duprey in his bid to retake CLICO, if he would pay them their money due, Duprey said: “There are several special interest groups that have come up because they have a vested interest, and remember, we have a wide range of stakeholders, so some of the stakeholders have gotten together to take action which may result in political action, if they don’t get what they believe is due to them.
“Remember that some people weren’t paid all the money, and there were employees who lost their jobs and were not compensated.
“There were a lot of people who, again, (had) obligations that were not met. These people have now come together in what would seem as a pressure group, and may take political tones later on, but we are not involved in that.”
Duprey said: “Our point of view, and I’m speaking for the shareholders, has always been to pay the people what is due to them. The company is more than 80 years old, and prior to what has happened, it has always met its financial obligations.
“For years, we have been meeting our financial obligations. We still want to meet our financial obligations but we have to work within the constraints of the Government action, the laws of the country, and the desires of some particular people in Government.
“So there are constraints on us, but we would like to pay everybody off and pay the people what is due to them because the company has always done that.
“For 80 years we have been doing that, so we don’t want to stop now.
“Whatever hang-ups there have been were because of a particular situation in which you had a financial crisis, which ended up in a small recession, and from what some of the commentators are saying, there was a lot of mismanagement by the Government people.
“Had it been left alone, everything would have been satisfied and we would have gone along our merry way, as we have done in the past.”
Both Imbert and the CSA on separate occasions concurred that previous Governments spent still unexplained amounts of money saving CLICO and CL Financial.
“I want to make sure that all the other stakeholders are paid their obligations — that their obligations are met. That’s what the shareholders want, and I’m speaking for the shareholders, as the former chairman,” Duprey said.
Duprey, 82, left Trinidad and Tobago in June 2009 and declined to testify at a 2010-2014 enquiry into the collapse of CL Financial, citing his constitutional rights.
Asked if he is prepared to visit Trinidad to advance his bid to take back the companies, he said: “I have no problem with coming to Trinidad, but I need to come to Trinidad for a reason, where my effort will be validated. In other words, I just don’t want to come down there and talk and move without something. If I can come down there and settle it, I’ll come.”
SOURCE- TRINIDAD EXPRESS
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