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Shock and awe at ATL pension fraud trial!

Friday, May 16, 2014    

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DEMONSTRATING the power of 52 years practising at the bar, veteran Queen's Counsel RNA Henriques yesterday left the defence in tatters, at the Appliance Traders Limited (ATL) pension fraud trial.

There was stunned silence in courtroom four of the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate's Court, Half-Way-Tree, as Henriques, citing case law after case law, clinically picked off the arguments by defence attorneys in their no-case submissions on behalf of three former ATL executives on trial for pension fraud.

The ATL case did not command the public excitement and media attention that the James Forbes sentencing did next door. But inside Lorna Shelly Williams' courtroom, the atmosphere was electrifying.

The story was easily told by the look of dejection on the faces of defence attorneys and the three accused -- Patrick Lynch, former chairman of the ATL Group Pension Scheme; Catherine Barber, former general manager of the scheme; and Dr Jeffrey Pyne, former managing director of Gorstew Limited, Gordon 'Butch' Stewart's holding company.

The three are charged with forging four letters to deceive Gorstew that they had consent to distribute $1.7 billion in pension fund surplus from which they benefited. The prosecution maintains that the letters, which were presented to Stewart by Barber on December 16, 2010, when he raised a fuss that consent was not given for the distribution, were backdated to 1998, 2002, 2005, and 2008.

Pyne, who signed the letters, had left the company seven months before December 15, 2010 when the alleged forgery was discovered. The letters are alleged to have been created between the evening of December 15 and the morning of December 16, 2010.

"The only inference that can be drawn from the evidence is that there was agreement (among the three) to produce the letters... which were created for the purpose of presenting to the company to show consent had been given for the distribution..." Henriques, the lead prosecutor argued.

The defence -- Queen's counsels K D Knight and Frank Phipps, and Deborah Martin -- had relied on far fewer case laws in making their no-case submissions between Monday and Wednesday. Henriques, mindful that the magistrate had always sheltered her rulings under the law, during the year-long trial, obviously came prepared.

Ten minutes into his presentation the courtroom came to attention. The accused persons in the dock became agitated for the first time in the long trial. Usually sitting up straight and looking in the direction of the magistrate, yesterday they looked steadfast at Henriques and seemed to strain to hear his every word, when his voice dropped.

Lynch, the alleged mastermind behind the conspiracy, grabbed his pen and furiously made notes. Barber shook her head vigorously to say 'not so', when Henriques suggested she could not have had the four letters and not mention them when the issue of consent came up at a high-level meeting with attorneys and Lynch.

The accused, several times, conversed in low tones, their faces a mask of concern as they looked towards their defenders who themselves appeared at a loss. Knight kept his head bowed, mumbled a lot and left the courtroom several times for brief spells. Martin had her head buried in her cellphone for most of the morning session. And Phipps kept his head down, appearing to be reading and re-reading his submission.

At one stage, a frustrated Knight rose angrily to his feet and declared: "I cannot hear what (Phipps) is saying because (Garth) McBean keeps yapping!"

For its part, the prosecution team of McBean, Henriques, Hugh Wildman, Raymond Clough and Miguel Williams seemed buoyed as Henriques kept plugging away.

The veteran attorney chuckled as he asked "by what quirk of magic" could the impression of Dr Pyne's signature from the 1998 letter appear on the 2005 letter, which would not have been in 1existence in 1998, citing tests carried out by an American forensic document analyst.

The prosecution will wrap up their response to the no-case submissions this morning.

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