Stumbling Caribbean Financial Crisis Management

Mind you, FINSAC in its beginning phase copped this prize, but that resulted from neither design, nor a private corporate chieftain’s business decisions, opting to accumulate and manage assets by acquisition.

FINSAC’s mass and reach was rather, the result of its creation as a resolution company, designed specifically for intervention and salvage of assets after meltdown. It acquired insolvent companies with significant and varied assets that, though often overvalued, were nevertheless insufficient to cover liabilities.

CLF’s standard mode of operation guaranteed it would become a Caribbean behemoth. To understand this process, consider what the central bank of Trinidad and Tobago and CLICO refer to as a “self-portrayed position” put abroad by CLF.

“For two decades,” their statement of case to the Trinidad and Tobago High Court of Justice, Claim No. CV 2011-02140 asserts, “the impression portrayed in TT and throughout the Caribbean region of the CLF group of companies was of a highly successful, fast expanding and diversified international group, and the substantial creation of a man of apparently remarkable talent, ambition and vision, namely Mr Duprey. He variously promoted and projected that impression in persona, personal wealth, lifestyle, largesse and publicity. Annual reports for CLF and other group companies were of consistent congratulatory and expansive themes.

“His mantra was growth and sales. The CLF group established and acquired holdings in companies in various sectors, including financial services, energy, construction, real-estate development, drinks and natural resources. The geographical range of the group’s activities grew from TT to include the Caribbean, North America (especially Florida), South America (especially Guyana), the UK and Europe and the Gulf (especially Oman).

“A product of the impression conveyed of the CLF group were huge and regular flows of money from members of the public in TT and elsewhere into its two main financial services companies CLICO and CIB [CLICO Investment Bank], as well as BAT [British American Insurance Company (Trinidad) Ltd]. In the case of CLICO, members of the public purchased insurance and annuity products (especially EFPAs and FPAs) and units of mutual funds managed by CLICO. In the case of CIB, they made fixed deposits and purchased “Investment Note Certificates”.

CLF’s and CLICO’s principals used the impression of substantial growth and income generation, buttressed by expansive and expensive lifestyles that included private jets and the like, to attract funds from a larger and larger pool of savers.

Fact is, however, this was an elaborate and fabulous case of smoke and mirrors. They were not creating value, wealth. Actuaries early on warned of looming insolvency.

Amazingly, or perhaps one should say, predictably, CLICO bid for the rehabilitated insurance companies FINSAC was attempting to return to the private sector in the late 1990s to early 2000s.

Fast forward to January 2009; imagine Jamaica’s economic condition had FINSAC given the nod to CLICO as opposed to Guardian and Sagicor.

So indeed, CLICO was a cash cow for the CLF group. CLF routinely appropriated CLICO’s liquidity for activities in which it had no stake and from which it profited in no way whatsoever.

Indeed, the chief financial officer of CLICO and a director warned in 2006 that CLICO was operating a “Ponzy (sic) scheme: Use today’s premiums to pay yesterday’s obligations.”

When Duprey encountered opposition to his schemes he simply fired the board and had a secret power of attorney created, leaving him in complete control. All these things the central bank and CLICO claim in their case.

So at core and effectively, if the statement of case is true, CLF/CLICO under Duprey, was little different from Cash Plus or OLINT. The major difference was organisational and institutional infrastructure alongside the regulatory framework within which CLICO was duty and legally bound to operate.

It did not and regulators, for whatever reasons, did not act. OLINT and Cash Plus, on the other hand, played a game with no umpire on a playing field with not even a hint of the elaborately decorated one that CLF created.

What of the Black Sand bid to retake Lascelles de Mercado and Company (LdM)? The statement of case asserts: “during late 2007 and 2008, CLICO was wrongfully caused by CLF and Mr Duprey and/or Mr Monteil to assist with the acquisition of a controlling interest in LdM, a Jamaican listed company, which was being purchased by CL Spirits Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of CLF.”

CLICO assisted by providing cash from its own funds and by way of a loan, as well as pledging its assets as security. These transactions covered in excess of US$173 million. “The total loss resulting from the LdM acquisition is approximately US$182m”.

Here’s the problem, the “claimants also claim an indemnity in respect of future loss should CLICO’s LdM shares pledged to FCB [First Citizens Bank] in support of a loan to AHL [Angostura Holdings Ltd] be called upon.

Monteil was paid US$1 million for his role in structuring the deal through a company of which he was beneficial owner.

Finally, expert opinion rendered on January 29, 2008, upon which the central bank and CLICO rely, holds that the LdM acquisition was ‘highly risky’; “the group has not conducted extensive (if any) due diligence on Lascelles. The acquisition was loss-making from the outset.”

The difference between the principals of LdM and CLF/CLICO was the fact that LdM’s owners were protecting assets they themselves or forbears had created and nurtured over many years. They were handling their own money. CLF was spending other people’s.

Imagine realizing in excess of US$600 million for an asset and within three years contemplating a buyback at less than half that sum! Good business if ever there was. The issue, however, must be full of legal thorns.

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