A former financial controller at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) yesterday testified in the Cuban light bulb trial that five companies, which the court had previously heard were owned by former junior energy minister Kern Spencer, were paid approximately $115.4 million.
Henoy Russell, who had signed off on some of the invoices paid to the companies, did not name the proprietor of the companies, but the prosecution's star witness Rodney Chin had previously testified that Spencer controlled the companies and that he (Chin) had acted as the front man for the embattled politician.
According to prosecution witness Russell, one of the companies, Universal Management Development, was paid as much as $80 million while $15 million was paid to Shipping Logistics; $4 million to Caribbean Communications Network; $850,000 to Caribbean Protection Securities Limited and $720,000 to Fuels of Jamaica.
The payments were apparently for services provided under the Cuban light bulb project which saw the distribution of the four million energy-saving bulbs — a gift from the Cuban Government in 2005, and which allegedly cost taxpayers $114 million.
Yesterday Russell, under cross-examination by attorney Debra Martin, revealed that he was never made aware of the overall budget for the project, but that PCJ had a budget of $90 million which had been exceeded.
In addition, he testified that the additional funds that were disbursed were not authorised and that the PCJ did not knowingly exceed the budget.
"Cheques were issued and it was after they were issued that there was the realisation that they have gone overboard," he told the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate's Court.
Russell also testified that some of the cheques were signed without authorisation, but that he was not involved.
He. however, testified that he did not verify all of the invoices and did not check all the supporting documents, including the project proposal, before signing off on the invoices because of the discussions he had with his superior and information that he had in his possession regarding the services to be rendered.
But during intense cross-examination by attorney KD Knight he testified that he had never seen the project proposal and did not know if one existed.
"You were comfortable signing invoices without seeing the proposals," Knight asked Russell, who answered in the affirmative.
Russell, however, testified that based on what he saw on the invoices and what he knew, he was confident that there was nothing "bogus" about the invoices he had signed and that genuine payments were made accordingly.
As it relates to the invoices for Fuels Jamaica, he testified that he had signed off on the invoices as he knew that the payments were for stipends for the Cuban volunteers.
Meanwhile, the trial came to a premature adjournment after the search warrant which was executed on Colleen Wright, Spencer's personal assistant and co-accused, was not brought to court and could not be verified by Detective Inspector Errington Malcolm during his evidence in chief.
Knight, who was visibly upset, complained about the defence being prejudiced and the continuous inefficiencies in the handling of the trial.
"It is not easy to be sitting where I am and to withstand what we have been withstanding. I don't like inefficiency and I hate when it comes in certain shape and size," he said.
Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn told the court that the prosecution did not have all the evidence and that she had made attempts to get it to court by 1:30 pm.
But Knight told Magistrate Judith Pusey that he could not return for the afternoon session and the matter was subsequently rescheduled for September 30.
Spencer's and Wright's bail bonds were extended.
Both accused are on trial on corruption and money laundering charges following allegations that they benefited improperly from the Cuban light bulb project.