WHERE DID THE MONEY GO?
LALLA’S PANAMA PROPERTIES FOUND
How one man took money from US$121m contract (originally earmarked for a taxpayer-funded climate change impact-reducing wastewater plant), left the project, flew off to Panama, bought million-dollar properties, and now hides behind lawyers, after setting up companies and trust funds for himself, his new wife and his children.
In one of the worst alleged white-collar heists perpetrated on the government and people of T&T of a sum totalling US$121 million, for what would have been a climate change impact-reducing wastewater recycling project is gone, according to a National Security ministerial statement made to the T&T Parliament.
The state-owned National Gas Company of T&T (NGC) awarded a contract to Super Industrial Services Ltd. (SIS) for the Design and Build of the Beetham Water Recycling Plant, together with the associated pipelines and water storage facilities, the statement said.
Lalla’s SIS did not finish even half of the job, 40-45%, when it stopped work on the project, after the government changed following the 2015 parliamentary elections. Lalla allegedly fled to Panama having been paid over 75% of the money by the then ousted Administration, the United National Congress (UNC).
The matter is now before the courts, pending a decision, that would then be followed by arbitration. In the High Court of T&T, the State is attempting to freeze SIS assets, in the event it wins the subsequent arbitration of the SIS-National Gas Company (NGC) dispute. The court case is sub judice and the arbitration is in camera, so both Lalla’s and the State’s attorneys declined comment when contacted in December. It is unknown exactly when the decision will be given because the T&T High Court uses an archaic notice-board system to advise attorneys the evening before judgment is delivered.
In the SIS-NGC dispute, the NGC is seeking to recover money from SIS for work not done on the water recycling plant.
In court, former T&T Attorney General (AG), Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj is representing the company blocking the State from freezing Lalla’s assets in T&T. However, Panama Public Registry records show, he has already done a lot more than just that for Lalla.
Following the money in the alleged cross-border corruption, money laundering and organised crime plan, Connectas in November in Panama City, Panama, uncovered that:
(1) Krishna Siew Lalla, the contractor, and founder of SIS, acquired at least four high-value properties since flying to Panama. They have an estimated combined value in excess of US$4.3 million.
(2) Lalla now presides over and/or directs a web of at least four companies, and eight Trust Fund-like foundations in Panama.
(3) He established a pattern of acquiring, post-transaction(s), mortgage-taking and/or money-lending companies, not initially formed in his name. In the pattern his attorneys and their acquaintances form the companies, do their transactions, and then are transferred to Lalla, Panama Public Registry documents show.
(4) Maharaj, the former AG, and wife, Lynette, appear to have helped the embattled contractor move company money across at least two international borders. Repeated calls and messages to Maharaj seeking comment remained unanswered. This was only after the first call to him was successfully connected though. Once he heard the nature of the query, he said he had to go because he was in court. He has not returned repeated calls since nor messages left with his staff. He has, however, been very vocal on other media on other matters, including a sedition case, as recently as January 14, 2020.
Ably assisted by a former AG
The former AG during the UNC’s first Administration, Maharaj and his wife Lynette appear in Panama Public Registry documents as the founding directors, president and secretary, respectively, of a multi-purpose mortgage-taking company called South OLT S.A. registered September 14, 2016.
To incorporate South OLT S.A., Maharaj and his wife, used their 78B London Street, St. Joseph Village, San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago home address. Maharaj and his wife used law firm Castañon & Francis of Via Italia, Paitilla, Panama City, the same law firm Lalla used to register three other companies and three of his eight foundations.
Less than a year after registering South OLT S.A., on June 2, 2017, Lalla took over as South OLT S.A.’s new president, and Davy Sookhoo, as its new secretary.
Maharaj is also the attorney for a company called Rain Forest Resorts, which is the company now preventing the State from freezing Lalla’s SIS T&T assets. Coincidentally, or not, a legally separate company registered in Panama, Rainforest Corporation, is stated in Panama Public Registry documents as linked to Centro Comercial Albrook Gardens, next door to the gated community where Lalla lives in Panama.
Little known to T&T, though, the Beetham Water Recycling Plant contractor, Lalla, is resident in Panama as a Canadian passport-bearing citizen.
He holds at least three other companies besides South OLT S.A. In some of his companies and foundations, he is a controlling director. In others he is also the founder, the president and/or the treasurer.
Though Maharaj was the founding president of South OLT S.A., it, like, several other companies with similar remits, ended up transferred to Lalla, consistent with a pattern detected and explained below.
Shortly after Lalla took over South OLT S.A. from Maharaj, on September 22, 2017, the company acquired Piso 1400 Terrazas del Parque, a 14th-floor apartment overlooking one of the most prestigious golf courses in Panama City for US$240,000 from Elia Auxiliadora Gomez Figueroa, according to the purchase agreement.
Today, however, based on OLX real estate agency listings of lower-floor apartments in the same building, the property in the high-end residential neighborhood is estimated to be worth at least US$375,000.
The first company registered in Panama that now belongs to Lalla was Tenbel S.A. It was initially registered on February 18, 2008, in the names of an ‘office worker’ called Luis Alberto Rodriguez, and a secretary named Barbara de Rodriguez.
The ‘office worker’ appears to be extremely entrepreneurial, however. Deeper checks into the registry show he has registered 11,090 companies, and is listed as a director linked to 14,286 companies as of January 2020.
Similarly, Barbara de Rodriguez, the ‘secretary’, appears to be extremely entrepreneurial, having herself registered at least 4,340 companies, and is a director on the boards of 5,601 companies.
As with Tenbel, their law firm of choice, for many of their companies, was Arias Fabrega and Fabrega. Tenbel was later handed over to Lalla and Sookhoo, as president and secretary respectively, via transfer documents entered into the Public Registry on October 24, 2016.
Tenbel now owns a first-floor apartment in the banking district of Panama city. Apartment 1-A on the first floor of Edificio Macondo, in Bella Vista, Panama City is estimated to be worth US$320,000 based on listings of similar apartments in the same building on Compreoalquile.com real estate website.
The second oldest company now in Lalla’s name, was initially registered on July 19, 2010. This company, called Drawing Outsource Inc., also started off in the names of two Panamanians: Cesar Degracia and Kathyel Ferguson.
Like Rodriguez, Degracia is a super busy founder and director of many companies, 287 up to December 2019. Likewise, Ferguson is a director linked to 342 companies. Tanya Coronado, appeared to be one of their most frequently used attorneys for this type of transaction.
Ferguson and Degracia are still on the board of directors of Drawing Outsource but Lalla and Sookhoo replaced them as the new president and secretary respectively.
Drawing Outsource Inc. owns a fourth-floor apartment around the corner from Tenbel S.A.’s, in the banking district. The apartment, on the fourth floor of Edificio Arcelia in Bella Vista, Panama City, based on nearby comparable real estate listings, for its size, is worth at least US$100,000. At 914 square feet, it is the smallest of Lalla’s seeable properties in Panama.
Chronologically, the next company created was South OLT S.A., formed initially by former AG Maharaj, and as said above, followed the same pattern of being held by someone else before being passed on to Lalla.
On December 16, 2016, Lalla’s legal agent submitted to the Panama Public Registry the articles of incorporation for a fourth company in Lalla’s name. Phoenix Welding and Fabricating Ltd started with an authorised capital of US$10,000. Lalla was its first president and treasurer but exited on July 30, 2018. Now only Sookhoo, and another person from Lalla’s household, Banistmo Relationship Manager Boris Lenin Correa Cedeño are company directors. Banistmo is a Panama-based bank owned by HSBC.
Correa Cedeño is listed in the Panama Public Registry as residing at Casa 112, Albrook Gardens, Ancon, Panama City with Sookhoo, and two others: Krishna Siew Lalla and Lincoln Kiran Lalla.
The gated community of Albrook Gardens denied Connectas entry to photograph Lalla’s house. However, Panama-based OLX real estate agency estimated the house, nestled among diplomatic residences including the Vatican’s, is worth no less than US$1 million.
Plaza Obarrio - an office for all
Phoenix Welding and Fabricating Ltd was the first of Lalla’s companies to tell the Panama Public Registry it is domiciled at PH Plaza Obarrio, Apartamento 209, Bella Vista, Panama. Its purpose, according to registration documents, is to buy and sell receivables and services.
Plaza Obarrio then became the site for the subsequent registration of three foundations though none of them are in the limited signage at Plaza Obarrio. The law firm Castañon & Francis registered the three foundations, one on June 19 and two on June 20, 2017. The registration of these three foundations also marked the end of company registrations and the beginning of only foundation registrations.
The names of the foundations are counter-intuitive, all with a mix of letters and numbers, making them foundations not easily found. Two of them do, however, appear to bear the initials of Lincoln Kiran Lalla and Terrence Junior Lalla (son), and among their purposes is to pay for the education and maintenance of persons the directors name.
On June 19, 2017, Lalla formed the RAJ0106L Foundation with an authorised capital of US$10,000. The registration document identifies Krishna Siew Lalla as a married Canadian man resident at Albrook Gardens, Calle Redwood, Casa 112, Ancon, Panama with a Panama government-issued identification card.
The purpose of this foundation is the administration of its own patrimony “for the exclusive benefit of its beneficiaries.” To achieve its objectives, the foundation invests “its heritage” by buying shares and making deposits in banks and other places. A Panamanian lady called Panama Osirys Puertas Cedeño is on the council of the foundation with Davy Sookhoo and Krishna Lalla. Puertas Cedeño is said in the foundation’s registration documents to be domiciled at the Plaza Obarrio Office 209 while Lalla and Sookoo are registered to be residents at Albrook Gardens.
On June 20, 2017, Lalla registered another foundation. The RAV0109L Foundation has the same objectives and council members as the one registered the day before. This foundation, however, owns an estate on prime land in Panama City. Lote A.P.4-5, in the Jose Domingo Espinar area in San Miguelito district of Panama City, and is estimated by OLX to be worth US$2,519,400 as it measures 28,545.89 square feet.
On June 20, 2017, Lalla registered a third foundation. The AZ1210L Foundation has the same characteristics, objectives and council members as the ones registered the same day and the day before.
On September 21, 2018, another law firm, Corporate Solution YP & Co. registered four more foundations for Lalla. The objective of the foundations, according to the registration documents, were to pay for the education, formation, equipping, assistance and general maintenance of several members of one or several families.
These four foundations are all domiciled in the residential, gated community of Albrook Gardens, house number 112. The first foundation, the LKL070282L Foundation was officially created by Lincoln Kiran Lalla. On its council are Krishna Lalla, as president and treasurer, and Davy Sookhoo as secretary.
Next was the AL 1801L Foundation which differs from the previous as Boris Lenin Correa Cedeño joined Lalla and Sookhoo on its council. This foundation is domiciled at their home at Albrook Gardens but can move, according to its registration documents, to any other part of Panama, or to any other country at any time.
Yet another foundation created on September 21, 2018 and that was the TL2312L Foundation with the same council members as the AL 1801L Foundation.
Fourth is the LL0702L Foundation, again, with the same council members.
The next year, on July 16, 2019, a different attorney, Gabriel Antonio Montenegro Gonzalez registered the Fundacion TAW18L Foundation for Lalla. This foundation has the same three council members, Lalla, Sookhoo and Correa Cedeño but is domiciled at Office 209, Plaza Obarrio, instead of at Lalla’s home at Albrook Gardens. It is the only foundation on which Terrence Junior Lalla has power of attorney, is a board member and treasurer. Krishna Lalla remains, however, as the founder and president.
Persons encountered on the Connectas trip to Panama exhibited a behaviour uncommon and uncharacteristic of friends, acquaintances and staff of the rich: Nobody proudly acknowledged knowing Lalla. Instead, questions were responded to with questions, such as, “How did you get this number?!”
Back in T&T both before and after the trip, people like Member of Parliament Dr. Roodal Moonillal, who boasted about his knowledge of Lalla and the SIS in Parliament on October 9, 2018, sidestepped a request to pass a message onto him. When contacted on his mobile phone, Moonilal took a full day to respond only that he was not in contact with Lalla, and that he had passed the message on to someone who might be.