Senate President blocks Howai from questioning
Monday, March 17 2014 @ 03:00 PM AST
Contributed by: michaelariston
Oral Answers to Questions
Sen. Faris Al-Rawi on behalf of Sen. Camille Robinson-Regis asked the hon. Minister of Finance and the Economy:
A. Is the Minister aware that in the on-going court matter in South Florida, USA in the case of USA vs Oscar Sanchez, a local bank has been named by the US prosecutor, as being implicated in a money-laundering transaction, involving sums of US$375m; US$63m and US$31m?
B. Could the Minister indicate whether the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) was in any way involved in the detection of this activity and the detection of the offences in this matter?
C. Could the Minister further indicate whether a "suspicious transaction" was reported to the FIU, with respect to this matter or any related matters?
D. If the answer to (b) and (c) are negative, would the Honourable Minister say why not; and what action has been or is being taken by the FIU, to correct the possible inefficiencies that led to its inability to detect and monitor this particular activity?
The Minister of Finance and the Economy (Hon. Sen. Larry Howai): Mr. President, the answer is relatively short, which is why we thought perhaps we should answer it now. It comes from the question itself. The matter is before the court and therefore sub judice and therefore it would be inappropriate for us to answer the question at this time. In addition, Mr. President, section 22(A) of the FIU Act specifically provides that the FIU cannot disclose to the Minister details of "a suspicious transaction or...activity report." [Desk thumping]
Sen. Al-Rawi: Mr. President, before I put my supplemental questions, through you of course, could you provide some guidance as to whether this sub judice affects the jurisdictional conflict between the United States and Trinidad? Because this is a question posed as opposed—it is posed in relation to a matter that is ongoing in the United States of America, not Trinidad and Tobago, which I believe our Standing Orders refer to.
Mr. President: I heard the Minister to say something more than merely the question of sub judice. He was saying that the matter was not appropriate for disclosure to this House, if I may paraphrase what he said. And if that is the case, then we have to accept the answer the Minister has given—sub judice or not sub judice. He indicated that it is a matter that requires confidentiality, as it was, and should not be disclosed at this House. I therefore fear perhaps that any supplemental question might transgress that statement by the Minister, but of course I do not know what question you are going to ask.
Sen. Al-Rawi: Thank you, Mr. President. I did not quite understand the hon. Minister to say that there was an issue of confidence. What I did understand the hon. Minister to say is that section 22(A) of the FIU Act prohibits the FIU informing the Minister of that activity. But I did not hear from the Minister’s own lips an issue other than sub judice, which I asked for clarification in respect of jurisdictional conflicts between the United States and Trinidad. So perhaps the hon. Minister could elucidate his point so that we may take it.
Mr. President: I will allow the Minister to do so, but that certainly is my understanding of what he said.
Sen. The Hon. L. Howai: Certainly, Mr. President. I mean, this is a matter on which we have received legal advice. I mean, I would defer to the Attorney General for a further amplification on that matter but we have been advised that the matter is before the court and therefore sub judice. In any event, as I was saying, in addition, the fact is that under section 22(A) specifically, the FIU cannot disclose details of matters that are part of "a suspicious transaction or...activity report" to the Minister.
Sen. Al-Rawi: Supplemental, Mr. President. In the parameters of part A of the question—whether the Minister is aware of an ongoing matter in the case of USA vs Oscar Sanchez, whether the Minister is aware of prosecution in a money-laundering transaction. Is the Minister able to answer that? That does not depend upon information coming from the FIU, as the Minister may be aware of it otherwise.
Mr. President: Of course, I might point out to you the question of court matters in the United States, I suspect, do not fall under the portfolio of the Minister, and therefore by reason of that this question cannot be put to him. Sen. Al-Rawi: Mr. President, again, I have not heard the Minister say that. What he has said is that he has received—[Interruption]
Mr. President: Sen. Al-Rawi, I am ruling. As the Presiding Officer, I am ruling that matter—you can only ask questions to Ministers relative to matters that fall within their portfolio. I am suggesting to you that proceedings in the United States, I suspect, do not fall within the portfolio of the Minister for him to answer that question. But my suspicions are that they would not fall within the portfolio and therefore not the subject, the proper subject of a question.
Sen. Al-Rawi: Mr. President, I will always be guided by your ruling but you have just said that you suspect that the Minister may be relying on that. Is it the ruling that the question cannot be answered? Or is it the suspicion that the Minister will say something else?
Mr. President: I will allow the Minister to answer for himself but, as Presiding Officer, I take cognizance of the fact that I would be very surprised to understand that matters that occur in the courts of the United States fall within the parameters of the Minister’s portfolio. But I will let him answer for himself.
Sen. The Hon. L. Howai: Mr. President, you are quite right. This is a matter which perhaps another Ministry might be in a better position to answer.
Sen. Al-Rawi: Thank you, Mr. President. I will be guided by that. And I thank the hon. Minister for coming up with that well-prepared response. Thank you.
Mr. President: I call on the Minister of Finance and the Economy. [Desk thumping]