'Gun without bullets'

Lawyers blast investigators, say raids were Gestapo-like operation

Senior staff reporter

Friday, October 11, 2019

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Two of three lawyers representing the five people accused of milking State coffers of over $50 million, among other illegal acts, yesterday came out swinging in defence of their clients, charging that the allegations were false and unsubstantiated while lambasting the investigators for using unnecessary tactics to detain the individuals.

The lawyers also questioned whether the agents of the Financial Investigations Division, Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA), and the Constabulary Financial Unit of the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Division, who arrested their clients Wednesday after staging early-morning raids at their homes, were influenced by politicians and individuals with hidden agendas.

Attorney-at-law Hugh Wildman, representing Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) President Professor Fritz Pinnock, fired the first salvo during the preliminary hearing in the Corporate Area Parish Court in Half-Way-Tree after the list of charges was read by Senior Clerk of Court Hansurd Lawson.

“When I listened to Mr Lawson I am reminded of a big gun without bullets. All we are hearing are allegations. I am expecting to see statements. The Gestapo-like operation yesterday was solely for embarrassing persons and boosting the waning political fortunes of some,” Wildman said, evoking applause from people in the gallery who were then warned that they would be evicted for disrupting the proceedings.

Continuing, Wildman said the simultaneous pre-dawn operations at the homes of the accused, which attracted much attention, “were uncalled for”.

“These persons are well-known in the community and could well have been summoned to the police station. In relation to my client, Mr Pinnock, when one looks at the search warrant, it was totally defective in law and could not stand up in a court of law,” Wildman said, noting that when Professor Pinnock was brought to the offices of the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) he was not told in precise language what he was brought there for.

“The law states that the arresting officers should state in ordinary language what you are being detained for. What we had yesterday was a charade. Professor Pinnock was brought to MOCA's office and he was asked 99 questions and he answered fulsomely. But nearly 90 per cent had nothing to do with the matter before us today. That tells me that this was a malicious operation orchestrated and instigated by persons with an agenda,” he charged.

“Were those carrying out the operations acting on their own, or on the instigation of others? I've been in this a long time and I've never seen anyone [facing similar charges] treated like this,” Wildman said.

In making the application for bail, which was subsequently granted and set at $2 million with surety and reporting conditions for Professor Pinnock, Wildman said his 55-year-old client was “a man of good character, has no previous run-in with the law, has done much for the community and is involved in a number of charities, a member of the church and has worked with youth at risk across the country.

According to Wildman, part of the reason Pinnock got caught up in the maelstrom of corruption allegations is due to his propensity to help.

“Part of what is happening today is because of his caring nature, that is why he conceptualised this programme to save the thousands of Jamaican youth and that's why he is here today, and those youth have benefited tremendously, not just under this Administration but under the previous. CMU has benefited tremendously. He literally single-handedly brought that institution to be a premier institution and has made a mark on the society,” the attorney told Parish Court Judge Vaughn Smith.

Pinnock, former Education Minister Ruel Reid, his wife Sharen and daughter Sharelle, as well as Councillor Kim Brown Lawrence (Jamaica Labour Party, Brown's Town Division), are the accused in the case.

Attorney-at-law Christopher Townsend, who is representing Brown Lawrence, in making the bail application for his client said the defence was denying the allegations.

“Mrs Brown Lawrence has impeccable character; she is a mother of six, including six-year-old twins. She has been married for the better part of 20 years. We have no previous convictions, no adverse dealings with the law, she is not a flight risk,” Townsend told the court.

Speaking to the media afterwards, both men took issue with the conduct of the security personnel involved.

“I had to stop them in their tracks because a lot of the questions were not permissible in law, and that is why the interview took so long, because I had to stop them on several occasions and they had to rephrase and in cases, abandon some questions,” Wildman said.

He said the lack of evidence by the MOCA agents to support the questions posed to his client showed that they were on “a fishing expedition”.

“In the interview, for example, they were asking Professor Pinnock if he made regular calls to Mr Reid. This will show it was a fishing expedition. If they had evidence that the professor and Mr Reid were communicating by WhatsApp or by phone, given the length of time they had to do these investigations, a proper investigator would have had those information yesterday to say 'look here, these are text messages we got from this phone, can you speak to that?' Nothing was done like that,” he stated.

“If they had done their work and had that information the law says he should have been confronted with it, both Reid and Pinnock should have been confronted with those messages… that is how the law operates, that you must confront the persons and get their response,” he added.

“We are taking issue with that [allegations read by the clerk]; we would like to see the evidence. Just coming and reading from the information is not good enough. You had over a year to compile your case. One would have expected that you would have even some basic statements; up to now nothing like that. It is woefully inadequate; that is just grandstanding; there is nothing to substantiate the allegations,” he charged.

For his part, Townsend told reporters, “We felt that it was unnecessary. We have been talking to the police. She gave a statement to the police already. We would have been available if they had called and said come in, which we have done before. So the early-morning theatrics was unnecessary, in our view.”

He said his client was “very happy that she is being placed on bail” but was “quite distraught Wednesday”.

“Her six-year-old twins were frightened out of their sleep, men blazing into the home, guns out. That would have been a frightening experience for her children, so she was very concerned about that,” he said.

Yesterday, Pinnock was offered bail at $2 million and is to report to the Greater Portmore Police Station in St Catherine every Wednesday and Saturday between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm. He is to surrender his travel documents, while a stop order is also to be put in place at the island's ports and he is not to be seen at the CMU. On Wednesday evening he was charged with conspiracy to defraud, engaging in transaction involving criminal property, misconduct in public office and corruption and spent the night in custody.

Brown Lawrence, whose bail was set at $1 million, is to report to the Brown's Town Police Station in St Ann every Wednesday and Saturday between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm. She is also to surrender her travel documents, a stop order is to be put in place at the island's ports and she is not to be seen at the CMU or the education ministry. She was charged with possession of criminal property and conspiracy to defraud, and also spent the night in custody.

The matter is to be mentioned again on January 23, 2020 and the prosecution is to submit a disclosure report all the details it has in respect to the case against the accused by October 31 this year.

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