Government minister asks court to gag UNC senator

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Jayanti Lutchmedial –

ON June 10, a High Court judge will say if she will grant an injunction to Youth Development and National Service Minister Foster Cummings to stop Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial from publicly speaking of his private and confidential information.

Late Friday, Justice Nadia Kangaloo heard an emergency application filed by Cummings’s attorneys which also seeks to get Lutchmedial to take down all information about him and his banking details which are posted on her Facebook page. He also sought to have her take down recordings of her statements on a UNC Monday Night Forum platform on May 5 and 16.

At the former, Lutchmedial released the contents of a Special Branch report on the minister while at the second meeting, he took issue with her use of financial records.

At the Monday Night forum, Lutchmedial raised questions over a public entity’s payment into the credit union account of a high-ranking public official.

She said the payment was disclosed in a source-of-funds declaration form. Lutchmedial said the form was leaked, along with two letters of award from the public body, plus the personal identification of a woman involved in the transaction.

The senator said a cheque from the public body was also uncovered and it was made out directly to the credit union. The letters of the award were made out to a relative of the public official and were provided to support the declaration, Lutchmedial said.

Cummings has since publicly clarified the business transactions. In his injunction application, he also provided an explanation for the transactions.

He said the company, Rivulet Investment Group Ltd, which is owned by his wife, Juliet Modeste, received loans over the years from the credit union. Cummings was the former CEO at Rivulet and was a director at Pical Services Ltd – the two companies identified by the senator – before he became a minister.

Cummings’s attorneys had written to the senator asking her to remove the recordings from her social media accounts, but they received no response prompting him to file for injunctive relief.

In strong opposition to any injunction being granted, Lutchmedial’s lead attorney, former AG Anand Ramlogan, SC, said this will only serve to “send a chilling cold down the constitutional spine that holds the freedom of political expression.”

Ramlogan said the injunction application was so wide, that it sought to muzzle the entire Opposition party. This, he said, was “offensive,” and “an unjustified attempt to muzzle a senator.”

In dealing with the Special Branch report and the financial records, Ramlogan questioned the explanation given by the minister. “It keeps getting murkier and murkier.”

He also said there was no information on what has become of the police’s investigation and made mention of the investigators’ application to the court for production orders to advance the investigation.

In October 2021, the police applied to the court for production orders for information from several financial entities as they probe payments to companies formerly linked to the minister.

Foster Cummings

Cummings’s attorneys objected to the police’s application before the court made under section 32 of the Proceeds of Crime Act on the grounds that the production orders could not be used in the way they wanted and that the application was too wide.

The judge hearing the matter suspended the production orders and in October, last year, ruled against the objection of Cummings’s lawyers.

At Friday’s injunction hearing, Ramlogan spoke of the rules against co-mingling of personal and business accounts and the regulations of credit unions which now falls under Cummings’s ministerial portfolio.

Ramlogan also questioned why Cummings wanted the senator to make her statements in the Parliament, when he, too, was speaking about it in public, giving media interviews, and holding press conferences.

“He has responded to the allegations. He has had his say.”

Ramlogan said the issue was one of national importance, not between the minister and the senator.

“Without freedom of political expression there will be no democracy,” he said, adding that there was no constitutional right to protection of a person’s reputation.

“What is the need for an injunction? These are two opponents in a political gayelle. The greater risk (of granting the injunction) lies to the public detriment by muzzling Ms Lutchmedial.” Ramlogan said Lutchmedial can pay damages if the matter went to trial.

“The horse has already bolted. They are trying to bolt the door after the horse has made three laps.”

Cummings’s lead attorney Farai Hove Masaisai said it was important to grant the injunction because of the statements made by the senator.

He also questioned the authenticity of the Special Branch report since he said his team is yet to receive a response from the Commissioner of Police to a query from them.

Masaisai said it was for the senator to prove the allegations she has made, not the minister although he has provided evidence to show that credit unions are allowed to give loans to members. He also quoted from the legislation that governed credit unions and friendly societies and Lutchmedial must prove there was any breach of the law. Masaisai also noted that included in his client’s evidence were statements from the National Maintenance Training and Security Company (MTS) on the contracts awarded to the companies owned by Cummings’s family.

He also said social media defamation was substantially different from statements made on the hustings.

Also addressing the court on the injunction application was attorney Faarees Hosein for the Trinidad Express newspaper.

At the end of the hearing, Kangaloo said she will deliver her decision at a remote hearing at 9.30 am on June 10.

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