“It was a straightforward business loan undertaken when I was a senator sitting on the back benches and which can withstand scrutiny. And the Opposition’s raising of this matter is a clear attempt at mischief making.”
So said Minister of Youth Development and National Service Foster Cummings yesterday as he responded to disclosures in an Express lead story that the FIU had flagged a Venture Credit Union account bearing his name for a suspicious transaction activity after a $4.4 million deposit was made to the account.
Cummings said yesterday firstly it was misleading to speak of a $4.4 million deposit. He said he did not know that there was ever a $4.4 million deposit, however deposits were made over time.
Cummings, who served as a senator without portfolio prior to his appointment as a minister in the Ministry of Works in August 2020 and then his appointment to the Cabinet in April 2021, said all the transactions took place before he entered the Government.
Normal lending criteria
Cummings, who served as CEO of the Group of companies (Rivulet Investment Group Ltd, Cummings and Associates Ltd and Pical Services Ltd) said the deposits to the account bearing his name were payments to the credit union for a business loan.
“Small business people get funding from credit unions because they have difficulty getting funding from the banks.
“A company cannot be a member of a credit union. The law allows for an individual or another credit union to be a member. So what the credit unions do is that they have a small business package that they offer to members so they can get loans for their businesses.
“The loans are serviced by the proceeds from the business. But it is the CEO of the company operating on behalf of the company to whom the loan is made.
“It is not a loan for personal use, but is specific to the operations of the business,” he said, adding: “The loan was in my name but for the purpose of the business.
“As a condition of these loans you have to meet normal lending criteria such as fixed assets as part of your collateral and you also have to assign the money you work for to the credit union, in the same way that someone who borrows money from the bank to fix their kitchen and they are working for Express, assigns part of their salary to the bank.”
Pointing out that the credit union provided contract financing, Cummings said the proceeds from the contract were assigned to the credit union for the repayment of the loan.
“Whatever contracts the business was doing, one of the conditions of the loan was that you have to assign the proceeds (of the contracts) to the credit union to pay off the loan.
“So all of these deposits would have been proceeds of contracts that the business had done and those payments were assigned to pay Venture Credit Union in fulfilment of the loan repayment. And this all happened prior to my becoming a minister,” he said.
By the time he became a minister, the loan, which had been taken out in 2017, was completely repaid, he said.
“So all this talk on the UNC platform about money being deposited into a minister’s account, is just deliberate political mischief,” he said.
He said the bulk of the loan was paid off before he entered the House of Representatives in August 2020, leaving a “residual amount” which was paid by the end of December 2020.
“When I decided to contest the general election, we as a business decided to clear up matters that could pose a potential conflict of interest. So we accelerated the repayment for the loans,” he said.
Cummings said transactions are flagged from time to time and the FIU is entitled to ask questions.
He said he did not know how long the process takes after a deposit is flagged, and is sent to the FIB for investigation, but the investigations appeared to have taken place in 2021.
“They flagged it, they asked questions. I am not sure what the procedure is but the police were doing an investigation and the police would have made a request for a production order to get information from the company.
“I have never been approached by any police officer on this matter. They went to the company to get information on what these transactions were all about. And the lawyers for the company, who were Gilbert Peterson and Keith Scotland, would have attempted to find out what this was all about and why this information was being sought,” he said.
The judge indicated that the information should be provided and the company provided the information to police. In response to a question, he said he was advised that nothing more has been sought of the company.
The Express understands Justice Kathy Ann Waterman-Latchoo overruled the application by attorneys representing the three companies and gave police the green light in 2021 to serve the production orders on the companies.
Cummings also questioned how the bundle of documents provided to the police as a result of this production order ended up in the hands of UNC Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial and others.
“And that is a serious issue. Because in the absence of having details about the transaction anybody could take a document and wave it and say anything.
“If you are providing information to the police as a result of a production order, you expect that that information would be treated in a particular way and not have it given to the Opposition to wave on a political platform. I could only speculate about who was in office at that time,” he said.
Asked whether he was referring to the position of Commissioner of Police, he said: “Of course.”
Cummings said the Opposition well knows that the credit union is where the small-man gets his financing but they see this issue as an opportunity to spread mischief.
He said the total amount of the loan was approximately $15 million.
He said the Opposition’s bundle of documents would indicate the total amount of the loan. “And I suspect what they plan to do, is come every week and make disclosures in driblets and say ‘look another deposit for X amount’ to this minister’s account’ in an attempt to be sensational and to dominate the headlines” he said.
“And they (the Opposition) knowingly distort the facts by saying it is the ‘personal account’ of Foster Cummings to suggest that those deposits were my personal funds when they were not.
“They were monies assigned to the credit union for the repayment of a business loan, and because I was the CEO of the company conducting the transactions, I signed the documents assigning the funds to the credit union, because the company could not be a member and therefore could not have an account with the credit union,” he said.