REPUBLIC Bank Ltd (RBL) was given a deadline of 4 p.m., yesterday to cut a cheque for $223,800.19 from an account belonging to the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) to former national gymnast Thema Williams.
Justice Frank Seepersad gave the directive during a virtual hearing yesterday, almost four years after he initially ordered the TTGF to pay Williams $.2 million subsequent to it withdrawing her from representing this country in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The sum represented Williams’ loss of endorsement and other opportunities after she was replaced by Canada-born alternate Marisa Dick.
While Williams was claiming $11 million in compensation, the court ordered she was only entitled to $150,000 in exemplary damages and an additional $50,000 for loss of opportunity to earn promotional income.
But four years later, the TTGF either failed or refused to pay the compensation ordered by the court.
The compensation ordered has since increased to $238,490.90, given the five per cent per annum interest from the date of the original judgment.
At yesterday’s hearing, Justice Seepersad approved a garnishee order filed by Williams on October 3, ordering the bank itself to facilitate the payment.
The judge lashed out at the Federation over what he said was an apparent “calculated refusal to compensate the judgment creditor (Williams).” He described the action as “reprehensible” and said the lack of action “has added further insult to the injury and incalculable hurt which was previously inflicted upon her.”
He pointed out that even though the 2018 decision was not appealed, the TTGF effectively ignored the court’s order and has since then been operating with a “business as usual mindset.”
“While the judgment creditor was left unpaid, training and events were engaged and international trips to Turkey were planned as the exhibits revealed that Mrs (Suzanne) John-Babooram (TTGF vice-president) has a scheduled November 2022 trip to Istanbul.
“…It appears that the ill-advised and unwarranted machinations, dismissive attitude and disregard towards the claimant/judgment creditor continue,” said the judge.
When the matter last came up for hearing earlier this month, attorney Farai Hove Masaisai who appeared on behalf of the Federation said while his client had funds in its Republic Bank account, his instructions were that the money was given to the Federation by the State as funding for a specific purpose and “not to be paid at will.”
Masaisai had requested that the court grant his client an opportunity to file affidavits explaining the true purpose of the funds.
The bank yesterday confirmed through its attorney, Tonya Rowley, that the TTGF had $257,308.71 in its account.
In her affidavit however, John-Babooram explained that from that amount, she is owed $110,449.37, which represents money she loaned to the federation to clear some of its debts.
President of the TTGF Christopher George supported John-Babooram’s position as he deposed that the federation incurred debts in the sum of $110,449.37.
This sum, he outlined represented sums owed to the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee, the Pan American Gymnastics Union, Tots and Tumblers, Hilton Hotel, International Gourmet Ltd, Readie Freddie, Caribbean Airlines and a number of other persons and organisations.
He stated that on June 9, the TTGF received $107,614.98 from the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago specifically for the purpose of providing financial assistance to athletes in the 2022 Artistic Gymnastics Senior Pan American Championships in Brazil and out of that sum, the unused balance stands at $29,003.52.
He further stated that the TTGF was also given donations from parents in the sums of $30,896.25 and $23,997 and that these funds were donated to fund athletes.
Williams, through her attorneys Darrell Allahar and Reza Ramjohn accepted the position advanced by the TTGF that the sum of $9,003.52 is held on trust for Sport TT and indicated that no order will be pursued in relation to the said sum.
Essentially, Williams agreed to accept less money than was owed to her.
This was a move that was commended by the judge.
However, he said the TTGF’s disregard of the court’s order cannot be condoned. He pointed out that the debts spoken of by George and John-Babooram in their affidavits were incurred long after the 2018 judgment.
In her affidavit John-Babooram spoke of the “urgency that required these bills to be paid” but it is apparent that the Judgment Debtor did not view payment of the Judgment Creditor’s debt as an obligation which has to be prioritised,” he said.
“It is difficult to comprehend why the Judgment Debtor has continued to be in receipt of State funding and donations when it stands in violation of a court order,” added Justice Seepersad.
“State funds ultimately belong to all citizens and should not be used to prop up or support any organisation which wilfully disregards the authority of the Court.”
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