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Lawyer's 'reprisal' comment sparks controversy in Trafigura hearing

BY PAUL HENRY Crime/Court Desk co-ordinator henryp@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, September 28, 2012    

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CONTROVERSY reigned at the Trafigura hearing in the Supreme Court yesterday with attorney Bert Samuels denying that he had said that there is a 'likelihood of reprisal' against the prime minister and a member of her Cabinet if they were to give witness statements in open court regarding the Dutch authorities' probe into corruption allegations against oil firm Trafigura Beheer.

According to Samuels, he did not tell the court that there is a likelihood of reprisal against his clients Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Cabinet Minister Robert Pickersgill.

He said he was merely speaking in general about witnesses in Jamaica when he said there is the likelihood of reprisal against them if they were to give statement in the open in relation to criminal matters.

The lawyer said the prime minister gave him no indication that she felt that she would be attacked if she gave a statement in open court regarding the probe into allegations of bribery of public officials regarding Trafigura's $31-million donation to the People's National Party.

"I was speaking in general about witnesses in Jamaica," Samuels told the court.

Samuels sought to clarify his statement after Carolyn Hay — a senior counsel for the Crown, which is representing the Dutch authorities here — rose to object to the reprisal statement.

Hay insisted that Samuels had said in his submissions to the court that Simpson Miller and Pickersgill would open themselves up to reprisal.

She said that there is no basis for the attorney to make the statement about likely harm to the prime minister and Pickersgill, the current environment minister.

Justice Marva McDonald Bishop said she thought Samuels was speaking in general but nonetheless requested the record to determine what was really said.

The Trafigura hearing has been going on since Monday as Simpson Miller, Pickersgill, Colin Campbell, Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell and businessman Norton Hinds challenge an order by Justice Roy Anderson for them to appear in the Supreme Court to answer questions being posed by Dutch investigators.

The order was sought by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions after the five reportedly refused to answer the questions in relation to the Trafigura donation.

The five are contending that their constitutional rights will be breached if they are compelled to co-operate as they would be regarded as suspects.

The PNP had said the $31 million was a donation for electioneering, but Trafigura claimed that the money was payment on a commercial agreement.

Dutch authorities believe that the money was to secure a renewal of the oil-lifting contract with the Jamaican Government.

Campbell resigned his post as information minister and general secretary of the PNP when the Trafigura scandal broke in 2006.

On Wednesday, attorney Deborah Martin, who is representing both Campbell and Paulwell, told the court that the probe was motivated by politics, as it was initiated by a request from the Jamaica Labour Party.

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