John H. O’Halloran was known as the “Mr. Ten-Percent Man” of Trinidad and Tobago. ‘Johnny O’ as he was commonly called, made himself an extremely rich man. Born in Trinidad he was nurtured under the People’s National Movement (PNM), evolving from its bowels and building a legacy of stealing from taxpayers and the state to make themselves wealthy and untouchable.
O’ Halloran’s influence in Trinidad and Tobago rested in the power of persuasion he applied on the father of our nation, Dr. Eric Williams. O’ Halloran became a cabinet Minister in 1956 when Dr. Williams handpicked him to be part of the newly founded, PNM. They remained in power for thirty successive years and during that time, he held a series of powerful state positions, including Minister of Petroleum and Mines.
From his insider standpoint, Johnny O simply took his piece of the pie, his 10%. Skimming off; construction, sales of aeroplanes, oil and horse racing.
At the time of his reign, O’ Hallaran’s corruption was well known. Yet, he was untouchable. It was widely believed that he was protected by the Prime Minister, Dr. Williams himself. When the PNM party was defeated in the 1986 General Elections, losing 33–3 to the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), the Honourable Selwyn Richardson was again appointed the Attorney General. He was determined to go after corruption and bribery and went after Johnny O to recover for Trinidad and Tobago the stolen funds pilfered from the state coffers.
Some of the events unearthed to build the case were over 20 years old; however, many accusations could not be proven. Bill Horton as counsel, together with Linquist forensic investigations (Lindquist Avey Macdonald Baskerville & Co.) two years after the start of the case, were able recover US$7 million for their client, the government of Trinidad and Tobago. This was the first time in history that a small island like ours had fought foreign countries, large super powers like the United States and Canada and had successfully sued a US company (Tesoro Petroleum) for bribery.
This was something to be considered great for justice and for the people of T&T.
However, the success of it all was short-lived. It has been alleged that The Guardian Newspaper was about to publish copies of incriminating documents and letters from Sir Ellis Clarke, including names of top ranking PNM officials, but a coup was instigated just at that time. The events that followed overshadowed the short-lived success of the NAR Government in recovering stolen state funds from foreign companies and countries. The headlines that weekend were all about the coup and what transpired after, overshadowing the milestone created by the earlier success of the historic win.
Let us not forget our history. A time when we were able to raise our heads high for accomplishing the impossible, for standing up against corruption within the government. Something of which our country had never accomplished before.