According to the Trinidad Express, moments before the dawn of 2020, Financial Investigation Branch police went before a magistrate and secured a detention court order to impound $28,046,500 under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Sources said the money, which was brought to the Central Bank after 5 p.m. on Old Year’s Day, was counted by police late into the night and was confirmed at $28,046,500 in old $100 paper bills.
This is the most significant development so far in the currency changeover exercise.
The dramatic situation arose when Longdenville pastor Vinworth Anthony Dayal, described as “a minister of religion and a pastor of the Third Exodus Assembly Church of Depot Road, Longdenville”, went to State bank First Citizens’ branch at South Trunk Road, La Romaine, on December 23 and informed bank officials that he intended to redeem all the old notes in his possession.
First Citizens immediately told him to go to the Central Bank.
A pre-action protocol letter dated December 29, 2019, sent to the Central Bank by Dayal’s attorney Darrell Allahar, states that “in or about December 2019”, when Dayal learnt that the old paper $100 bills would cease to be legal tender after December 31, he “began an exercise of opening all of the unopened tithe envelopes. On December 23, Dayal, along with Collin Wellington, Patrick Dayal and Wrenrick Bishop, all trustees of the church, attended First Citizens Bank at its South Trunk Road, La Romaine, branch and informed Ms Trudy Noor that he intended to redeem all of the old bills in his possession.”
In the letter, Allahar explained the source of funds as having been derived from churchgoers who contributed their tithes.
Allahar stated that Dayal “had collected over the past 19 years voluntary offerings for his personal use and benefit from members of the congregation of the church in the form of tithes”.
“These tithes have always been collected from members of the congregation in specially marked ‘Tithe’ envelopes,” the letter said.
“My client had during the aforementioned period securely stored those tithe envelopes containing cash tithes and they would be opened only when the need arose. The cash tithes received by him and currently in his possession have not been deposited in any commercial bank since my client is strongly against dealing with commercial banks,” Allahar stated.
However, tithes given by cheques were deposited into a special bank account for that purpose, he added.
Allahar said Dayal told First Citizens on December 23 that he estimated that the sum was approximately $25 million.
First Citizens indicated that it was not in a position to redeem those notes and Dayal was referred to the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago.
He immediately sought legal advice, the letter stated.
On (the next day) December 24, 2019 Dayal, through his attorney Allahar, contacted the Central Bank and liaised with Nadira Rahamatula-Rajack, the Central Bank’s Anti-Money Laundering Specialist, whom he informed of his intention to redeem the estimated sum before December 31.
“Mrs Rahamatula-Rajack indicated that my client would have to come into the Central Bank in person and fill out a source of funds declaration prior to redemption of the notes in his possession, and that the said declaration form would only be made available at the Central Bank,” the letter stated.
Dayal, through his attorney, informed Rahamatula-Rajack that he was taking urgent instructions and preparing a comprehensive statutory declaration detailing his source of funds and that he was willing to comply with any relevant disclosure, without prejudice to his right to redeem the old $100 bills in his possession prior to December 31.
“An appointment to meet Rahamatula-Rajack at the Central Bank on December 27, 2019 was arranged,” the letter stated.
On December 27, two attorneys — Allahar and Aaron Mahabir — (but in the absence of Dayal) met with Rahamatula-Rajack at the Central Bank around noon and presented her with the following documents:
a) a covering letter, signed by attorney Allahar, dated December 27, 2019 submitting Dayal’s statutory declaration declared on December 27 and indicating that such submission was without prejudice to (Dayal’s) statutory right of redemption under Section 27 A(3) of the Central Bank Act. The letter also indicated Dayal’s willingness, “subject to advice”, to provide any further information or documentation in his possession to the Central Bank and/or the Financial Intelligence Unit, should this be requested in writing and the sum of $28,046.500 in old notes was ready to be redeemed before January 1, 2020.
Dayal also indicated that he was willing to work with the Central Bank to put in place appropriate logistical arrangements for the redemption.
b) the said statutory declaration together with exhibits.
Central Bank seeks source of funds info
Rahamatula-Rajack informed Allahar at the meeting that the submitted statutory declaration would be considered and that he would receive “some word about the logistical arrangements to be put in place for the redemption of the notes”.
Through Rahamatula-Rajack, the Central Bank however requested the following information:
a) The church’s First Citizens statements for 2018 and 2019;
b) Dayal’s bank statements for 2018 and 2019 for the bank account at First Citizens which he held jointly with his wife;
c) the originals and a copy of all bank statements referred to in the statutory declaration which were in Dayal’s immediate possession.
On December 28 (the next day), Allahar was informed by Rahamatula-Rajack that because of “enhanced due diligence” required for a transaction of that size, the Central Bank was still in the process of considering the documentation provided.
She also notified Allahar that the “tentative redemption date” of Sunday December 29 “was no longer possible”.
In addition, she advised that Dayal would have to attend “in person” on Monday December 30, 2019, to complete the Central Bank declaration form “and to undergo ‘a process’ including being interviewed with respect to his source of funds”. (Allahar indicated that they would not attend and they did not in fact attend)
Allahar noted that Rahamatula-Rajack’s “understanding of the law” “differed from his in that she (Rahamatula-Rajack) did not agree that the Central Bank was compelled to redeem the said notes prior to January 1, 2020.
“She referred to the ‘guidelines’ that my client (Dayal) was required to complete, the Central Bank’s said declaration form and she also referred to the existence of some ‘unspecified discretion’ of the Governor of the Central Bank in relation to redemptions.”
Rahamatula-Rajack also indicated to Allahar that “she could not guarantee that the redemption exercise would take place prior to January 1, 2020 due to the “enhanced due diligence” process. She, however, “assured” Allahar that his client had the option of redeeming the said notes subsequent to January 1, 2020.
This conversation took place via telephone during which it was also arranged for Dayal and his attorneys to meet with Rahamatula-Rajack at the Central Bank on Monday, December 30 at 9 a.m. Rahamatula-Rajack also advised that redemption would not take place on that day.
No meeting took place.
Allahar submitted that Section 27A (3) of the Central Bank Act imposes “a mandatory duty on the Central Bank to redeem at face value, without any conditions or any discretion whatsoever, any specified notes which are presented for redemption prior to the appointed date”.
He stressed that “any published guidelines for the redemption of specified notes in accordance with Section 27A (3) of the Central Bank Act (if those guidelines indeed exist) cannot derogate from the statutory obligation of the Central Bank under Section 27 A(3) to redeem at face value any of those specified notes which are presented for redemption prior to the appointed date”.
He contended further that there has never been published in the Gazette in accordance with Section 12(1) of the Statutes Act “any prescribed conditions and procedures made” for the redemption of specified notes under Section 27 A (3) (of the Central Bank Act).
Allahar stated that while Section 27A (4) gives an opportunity to his client to redeem the specified notes “after the appointed date”, it “confers a conditional right on my client subject to the discretion of the Central Bank. (And) There is no guarantee that my client’s notes would be redeemed as of right”.
“The Central Bank has absolutely no legal authority to frustrate or delay my client’s right to redeem his specified notes,” Allahar stated.
The letter accused the Central Bank of “acting in bad faith” and claimed that “for improper purposes”, it had put in place a “vague and arbitrary condition for the collection of personal and financial information when it is well aware that it has no statutory authority to insist on same as a condition precedent for redemption prior to January 1, 2020”.
Allahar argued that the imposition of a condition precedent for such redemption by insisting that his client complete the declaration form and undergo a “process” of “enhanced due diligence is not authorised by any written law whatsoever and requires my client to provide personal and financial information to the Central Bank before his request for redemption is considered.
“Such imposition threatens to infringe on my client’s right to respect for his private and family life guaranteed to him under Section 4 (c) of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.”
He said, therefore, it was “disingenuous”, “unlawful” and “arbitrary” for the Central Bank to insist on collecting such personal and financial information when it had “no statutory authority” to do so, as a condition precedent for redemption.
Allahar said therefore his client would be seeking judicial review of the Central Bank’s decision, if a satisfactory response to his letter was not received by December 29, 2019 or that if he did not receive a written confirmation and assurance that the redemption would be done on or before January 1.
He indicated that his client would “have no choice” in such a situation but to seek relief via judicial relief for a declaration that the Central Bank has acted unlawfully, that its failure to redeem is ultra vires and in excess of its jurisdiction, an abuse of power, done in bad faith and that it has breached its mandatory duty to redeem the notes.
The Central Bank fixed an appointment for Dayal for Tuesday, December 31 at 1 p.m. but Dayal failed to arrive at the appointed time, arriving instead much later, without the cash.
The money was eventually brought hours after the officially designated closing time of 3 p.m.
Officials of the FIB however were present at the Central Bank at the time of the transaction and on the authority of a detention order from the court which they obtained, seized the money under their statutory authority.