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Seereeram hunted for other transactions in which Citibank had used financial instruments like those in the Trintomar deal, which, he says, "made them [Citibank] feel like they could get away with this." His chase led him to the nation of Dominica, a speck of island 300 miles north of Trinidad. Dominica depends on connecting flights on small planes from larger islands, and its minor tourist trade is struggling. The government sought bond financing from Citibank Trinidad to build Dominica's first major airport, which would be able to handle larger jets from the U.S. and Europe.
Seereeram contacted Dominica's government after seeing documents related to the bonds. According to the terms of the deal, outlined in documents obtained by Time, the airport was to be financed in part by bonds to be secured by a $2.8 million "sinking fund," or money loaned in excess of construction needs and managed by Citibank. But instead of investing the sinking fund elsewhere, the documents show, Citibank used the fund to buy up the airport bonds and convert them into a different kind of bond that reaped a higher premium, without telling the borrower.
The government of Dominica filed suit against Citibank in July, accusing it of extracting "secret profits" of about $1.8 million from the transaction, on a bond issue that lacked proper security and provided, in effect, only $14.2 million in financing, the lawsuit alleges. Citibank is expected to submit its formal response in the case next month. Dominica's airport, hampered by bureaucratic struggles, has not been built.
With the renewed scrutiny directed at Citibank Trinidad, Trinidad is reconsidering another controversial deal, a complex 1998 interest-rate swap now under review by its attorney general. Conrad Enill, Trinidad's Finance Minister, says his government is closely watching what happens in Dominica. So far no one has been willing to reopen the Trintomar transaction, but Seereeram persists. It took his father 15 years to win his sugar battle. Seereeram has been fighting for only four.