State asked to pay $2M for missing excavator

Published in the Trinidad Guardian on Sun, 2011-03-27 19:16

The State is being asked to pay a whopping $2.3 million for a $475,000 excavator that went missing under the eyes of the Special Anti Crime Unit of T&T (Sautt) in Cumuto. On July 27, 2010 attorney Linda A Greene representing Babram Sookoo, the owner of the Cat 320BL excavator sent a pre-action protocol letter against Attorney General Anand Ramlogan in the Port-of-Spain High Court for compensation for loss of the heavy piece of machinery. The letter was filed in the court on October 28, 2010.

Sookoo is claiming the sum of $2,386,663, which includes $3,000 for loss of use/profits per day with effect from January 14, 2009 to July 27 2010, legal fees, plus special damages, interest and cost to be calculated. However, Ramlogan, in an application filed on January 3, 2011 before the Port-of-Spain High Court through attorney Tricia Bhagwandeen, requested an extension of 21 days to file a defence in this matter. Bhagwandeen said it was now necessary to obtain certain station diary extracts and statements obtained by inspector Kenneth Galindo.  No directions or trial dates have been set.

Excavator seized

The letter outlined that on January 14, 2009, Sookoo’s excavator was seized by the police after it was allegedly involved in illegal mining on state lands in the Wallerfield district. Sookoo had rented the excavator to Khemchand Beran who wanted to construct an irrigation pond in Block 3, Cumuto.  Beran described himself as Sookoo’s farmer. The excavator was used in illegal mining which resulted in the arrest of Gary Antonio Antoine, who was charged with digging and removing materials from state lands without a licence. Sookoo, of Cunupia, was not charged with any offence. On January 14, 2009, the excavator was left at Sautt’s army base for safe keeping by a contingent of soldiers attached to the first engineer battalion.

Removed from Sautt compound

However, when Sookoo, with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecution, went to Cumuto to retrieve the excavator on June 7, 2010 it could not be found. The excavator was not licenced to be driven on the roadway and required special equipment to effect its mobility, namely a trailer. It appeared that the excavator was unlawfully removed from the compound. In his claim, Sookoo (who had one of his arms amputated) cited that the loss of his property caused him untold hardship since the machinery was the mainstay of his business. Though the excavator was no longer in his possession, the letter stated that Sookoo was still obligated to repay his bankers the loan plus interest. Sookoo’s monthly installment to the bank was $11,478.95. As of June 2010, he owed his bankers $31,936.85 in arrears.

Sautt report: It’s disturbing

Sautt in an overview report described the disappearance of the excavator as disturbing. Sautt recommended the establishment of a policy to effectively deal with the proper lodging, safekeeping, security and management of police exhibits and the installation of CCTV cameras with comprehensive and effective monitoring of the storage area for heavy equipment.

 

TriniCSI Comment

The above recommendations were submitted to all law enforcement agencies back in 2006. they are standard for evidence rooms where criminal exhibits are stored but never taken on board here in Trinidad. Was it because of the cost? I dont think so because the government at that time would have paid for what was needed, more I think it was certain people standing in the way of it, stopping the recommendations being pushed through because only the thoughts they had were important…

I also don’t really think its fair to blame SAUTT with this loss… well not all of them. Whoever knew that item of equipment was a criminal exhibit should have made it secure instead of parking it with all the other excavators and trucks that were parked in Cumuto camp. it just looked like part of the scenery really and wasn’t noticed that an exhibit was missing because it wasn’t segregated at all…

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