Government of Trinidad vs. Minister Johnny O Halloran, Mr. 10%
Political Corruption, Bribery
Mr. Ten Percent of Trinidad
“It doesn’t sound like much to Mr. Ten Percent of Trinidad. A man named John H. O’Halloran made himself an extraordinarily wealthy man. Johnny O, as he was called on the island hadn’t come as a stranger to Trinidad; he grew up there. O’Halloran’s clout in Trinidad lay in the sway he seemed to hold over a man named Eric Williams, Trinidad’s father of independence, head of the People’s National Movement, a political party that came to power in 1956. Williams appointed his man to a series of powerful patronage positions. From his insider vantage point, Johnny O took his slice, his 10%, his skim off the top, in oil, construction and in horse racing. And almost everybody in Trinidad knew it. But nobody could do anything about it.
The Honourable Selwyn Richardson, the Attorney General in the Williams government, launched an investigation in the early 1980’s into O’Halloran’s looting of various tills. The investigation was genuine, but so were the concealments and obfuscations Richardson encountered. These road blocks were set in place by higher-ups within Richardson’s own party, by people who shared O’Halloran’s corrupt practices. Richardson gave up. He gave up everything, his investigation, his attorney general post, and his membership in the People’s National Movement. But he continued, in private, to keep files on Mr. Ten Percent, hoping they would one day have a purpose.”
“In March 1981, Eric Williams died. With his son in Toronto, O’Halloran senior headed there, too. But his health was failing, and in March 1985, he died. Meanwhile, back in Trinidad, a new political party came to power in December 1986, finally toppling the People’s National Movement. Suddenly there was new interest in the O’Halloran saga. Surely, there must be a way of recovering at least some of the money. Or maybe there wasn’t a way. It turned out that the wily Johnny O had died without a will, leaving nothing in his name except ten thousand dollars in traveler’s cheques. “What was Trinidad to do?”
In December 1986 the three opposition parties united to form the National Alliance for Reconstruction and were able for the first time, to defeat the People National Movement who had been in power since 1956 when Trinidad achieved its republic status.
In the fall of 1988, I met the Honourable Selwyn Richardson, now again the Attorney General to determine if there was any merit to support the numerous allegations of bribery that had surfaced in the local press for many years. After starting with his press clippings and speaking with certain individuals, three corporate targets all located in the US, including McDonnell Douglas and Tesoro Petroleum were identified. I was able to recommend Bill Horton as counsel, and two years after the start of the case, the team recovered US$7 million for the client.
Some of the events unearthed from history were over 20 years old. Others could not be unearthed. In one case, the Attorney General, Senior Counsel Hudson-Phillips QC and I went to Venezuela to meet President Lusinchi to seek government to government co-operation. We then went to a bank who located a bank statement that showed the deposit of the bribe paid by a US company and the disbursement of same in four equal amounts. But the supporting documents could not be located and the mystery was never solved.
Nonetheless, this was the first time that a foreign country had successfully sued a US company for bribery and made a recovery. This was a great case, a great experience but with a very bad ending, the loss of a friend. On June 20, 1995, Selwyn was murdered in his driveway at his home in Trinidad. I enclose a presentation Selwyn gave only eight months earlier at a conference.