PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Friday May 17, 2013 – Former chairman of the financially troubled CL Financial group, Lawrence Duprey, has blamed the world recession and not mismanagement for the collapse of the Colonial Life Insurance Company (CLICCO), the flag ship company of the group.
The financial problems of CLICO and the collapse of the British American Insurance Company (BAICO) have not only affected clients in Trinidad and Tobago, but in many Caribbean countries where policy holders have reported losses estimated at millions of dollars.
The Trinidad and Tobago government said it has pumped more than TT$25 billion (One TT dollar =US0.16 cents) in bailing out the company since it collapsed in 2009 and last year, the Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard said the police had started a “full criminal investigation” into the conduct of individuals and corporate entities involved in the collapse of CLICO and related companies.
But Duprey, who resides in the United States, in an exclusive interview with the Trinidad Guardian newspaper blamed the world recession and not mismanagement for the situation.
“It’s the downturn and the bubble that burst that hurt the company. It’s not mismanagement, or what I do or what anybody else did. When you measure the numbers, you could see that could not happen. When you measure the numbers, you could see that mismanagement couldn’t cause CL Financial to come down, it had to be the economy.”
The newspaper said that Duprey, who failed to appear before a Commission of Enquiry set up by the authorities here to examine the situation that led to the collapse of CLICO, refused to comment or entertain questions on the Commission because of the ongoing criminal probe and civil matters before the courts.
But he said when CLICO was established, its aim was to assist poor people and improve development among youths in sport and culture.
“It was to build an economy that can provide an exceptionable standard of living for our people. We didn’t want to be rich, we just wanted to be comfortable,” he said, noting that Trinidad and Tobago has a small population and “in a small state, you have to determine your own future. In a small state, you have to build on savings.
“We were the caretaker of the people’s savings. That’s why it is ridiculous to say that I’m going to do something wrong because I know I am a caretaker of plenty people’s savings. Mentally, I helped them save. I also helped them to be better people through their savings.”
He defended the policies of the Port of Spain-based insurance regional insurance giant and dismissed reports that he spent lavishly on himself.
“I had a Mercedes, but I end up driving my Honda. My Honda was about 18 years old and that satisfied me, wherever I wanted to go,” he said.
Duprey has also told a group of policy holders advocating for him to return the Chaconia Medal (Gold), the nation’s second highest award, that they can come and collect it.
But chairman of the CLICO Policyholders Group, Peter Permell, said he was “shocked” at Duprey’s comment adding “we just could not fathom how this individual, who was once held in such high regard by the citizens of this country and who has benefitted so much over the years from the patronage and loyalty of thousands of policyholders to the ‘CLICO brand’, could be so callously ungrateful and dismissive of these very same people.
“Based on Duprey’s comments we are of the considered opinion that he has forfeited any modicum of entitlement that he had to this honour and should as a consequence send it back to the President,” he added.
Duprey, during his interview with the newspaper, which is also being aired on the television station of the Guardian Media Group, has also angered Attorney General Anand Ramlogan while responding to earlier remarks by the government minister who described the businessman as a “wanted” person.
Duprey has also denied a May 3 letter by Ramlogan’s lawyer, Donna Prowell, to his attorney indicating that there were rumours that Duprey had visited Trinidad and Tobago on a yacht with friends.
Ramlogan said that “it is a pity that Mr Duprey did not see it fit to return and assist in the necessary efforts caused by the CLICO fiasco. This, after all, is the country in which he amassed his fortune and created the wealth that financed his billion-dollar empire.”
The Attorney General said the collapse of CLICO “left in its wake a trail of despair, depression, destruction and financial ruin. Words cannot express the frustration and anguish experienced by citizens who lost their retirement savings and were forced to live on the limited charity of friends and relatives”.
In a statement, Ramlogan said policyholders and depositors have been demanding answers and explanations from Duprey to no avail.
“To date, no one from the CLICO empire, including Mr Duprey, has apologised to the thousands of grieving citizens whose hard-earned savings have been compromised. “Perhaps I will consider apologising to Mr. Duprey for querying his whereabouts after he apologises to the thousands of loyal CLICO customers and taxpayers who must now finance the expensive bailout,” Ramlogan said.
“Duprey was further insulting citizens of Trinidad and Tobago by his “dismissal” of the request by the CLICO Policyholders’ group for him to return the Chaconia Gold Medal awarded to him in 1999. In the T&T Guardian report Duprey responded to that matter by saying: “If they want it, take it… I don’t need it.” (CMC) Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)