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US Forensic scientist says ATL pension letters were faked

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

Thursday, January 23, 2014    

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AN expert witness testified in the Appliance Traders Limited (ATL) fraud trial yesterday that the letters presented by company executives as proof they had consent for the distribution of pension surplus were fakes.

Expert Erich Speckin, a forensic chemist and forensic document analyst at the United States-based firm Speckin Laboratory, outlined in the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate's Court the methods used in arriving at his findings and conclusions, in his damning evidence.

Speckin testified that he was on December 17, 2010 visited at his home in Hollywood, Florida, by ATL general counsel Dmitri Singh and a Robert Rightmyer, who presented him with four letters -- dated July 18, 2008, June 10, 1998, June 7, 2002, and May 12, 2005.

Speckin, whose examination-in-chief was led by Queen's Counsel RNA Henriques, said he was asked if he could determine whether the letters were created and signed on their purported dates.

The expert, who has worked some 4,000 cases examining documents, and who is renowned world over for his expertise, said he did a visual examination of the documents and observed compression in the 2002 and 2005 letters. He did further tests with a specialised equipment designed to detect and visualise "impressed writings" in paper.

Among his findings at the end of the exercise was that the signature on the 1998 letter was impressed into the 2002 and 2005 letters and the signature on the 2002 letter was impressed into the 2005 document. This suggested that the signatures were affixed while the letters were stacked on top of each other.

Speckin's conclusion is that the 1998 and the 2002 documents were not created on the purported dates but after the creation of the 2005 letter.

He said he explained the results to Singh and Rightmyer and was asked by Singh to do chemical tests on the ink on the signature, the toner on the letterhead and text of the letters and to determine for how long the ink had been on the paper.

He said he took samples from the original document on which the tests were conducted after Singh and Rightmyer left with the originals.

His finding was that the ink used in the signing of all four letters "showed no differences in the dyes used", and he concluded that the same type of ink "from the same formulation and same manufacturer" was used to sign all four letters.

The pen was the Paper Mate brand, Speckin said to the objection of Queen's Counsel KD Knight who noted that this wasn't in the witness statement. This was one of several objections raised by the defence, who at times asked for disclosure when the witness spoke of the process and equipment he used in coming to his findings.

Queen's Counsel Frank Phipps said at one point that the lack of disclosure regarding the equipment was tantamount to an ambush of the defence. But, after Henriques responded for the prosecution, Senior Magistrate Lorna Shelly-Williams ruled that the witness should continue and the time would be afforded the defence after examination-in-chief to consult their experts if needed.

Speckin testified that there was no difference in the toner used to print the text of the four letters and that the letters contained the same watermark. The watermark he said did not contain an identifiable date tag. He concluded also that there were no differences in the toner on the letterhead of the documents.

Regarding the ink in which the letters were signed, Speckin testified that he could not determine an age, adding: "Heat was used to accelerate the ageing of the ink and drive off the 2PE to an undetectable level."

Asked about his qualifications, Speckin said he has given evidence, under oath, close to 300 times in the US, Canada, Mexico, Uruguay, England, Germany, and Japan and that he has published some 13 papers and articles in the field of forensic chemistry and forensic document examination.

Patrick Lynch, the former chairman of the pension fund, Catherine Barber, former general manager of the fund and Dr Jeffrey Pyne, a former director of Gorstew Ltd, the holding company for Gordon 'Butch' Stewart's group of companies, are believed to have conspired in the forging of four letters to deceive that consent was given for the distribution of $1.7 billion in pension fund surplus.

The prosecution maintains that the letters, which were presented to Stewart by Barber, were backdated to 1998, 2002, 2005, and 2008. Importantly, Pyne, who signed the letters, had left the company seven months before December 15, 2010 when the alleged forgery was discovered.

Lynch was the alleged mastermind behind the scheme, the court was told.

Meanwhile, there was an early adjournment of the matter yesterday as the defence wanted to examine 15 blown-up charts prepared by Speckin of his findings, before they are shown to the court.

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