FID blundered, says attorneyWednesday, October 23, 2019
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Attorney-at-law Hugh Wildman is insisting that the Financial Investigations Division (FID) — the entity tasked with, among other things, investigating allegations of money laundering, financial crime and corruption — blundered in a major way when its officers arrested and charged the five people embroiled in the case of alleged corruption at the Ministry of Education and Caribbean Maritime University (CMU).
This misstep, he said, provided the basis on which embattled former Education Minister Ruel Reid and CMU President Fritz Pinnock yesterday filed an application in the Supreme Court for a judicial review against the FID in respect of the charges brought against them in the St Andrew Parish Court two weeks ago.
Reid, his wife Sharen and daughter Sharelle, Professor Pinnock, as well as Jamaica Labour Party councillor for the Brown's Town Division in St Ann Kim Brown-Lawrence were arrested and charged during highly publicised pre-dawn operations at their homes following what law enforcement officers said was a probe into allegations of corruption, fraud and misappropriation of public funds at the Ministry of Education and CMU. All five accused have since been released on bail.
Referencing the filed application during a press briefing at his office in the Corporate Area yesterday, Wildman said both Reid and Professor Pinnock were arrested by officers who are a part of FID and the charges read to them by FID officers.
“We are seeking to have those charges quashed in the Supreme Court on the basis that the FID exceeded its jurisdiction. When one looks at the FID Act it is on similar terms to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) Act, where INDECOM is a purely investigative body. In fact, our Court of Appeal indicated in clear and uncertain terms that INDECOM did not have the power to lay charges and arrest anyone. A similar approach applies in relation to the FID Act; the FID is a department of the Ministry of Finance, it has no prosecutorial function, it is to investigate financial crimes and then turn it over to the relevant persons,” Wildman argued.
“We are contending that the charges are a nullity... there were five persons charged and this application is brought by two of these persons. The effect of a ruling in this application would be that the charges against all would have to be quashed because the persons are charged jointly, they were brought in under the same circumstances,” he explained.
Following the reading of the list of charges during the preliminary hearing at the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court earlier this month, Wildman had said the case being brought reminded him of “a big gun without bullets”.
Yesterday, he retracted that, saying instead, “When we went to Half-Way-Tree and responded to all of the information that was laid by the clerk of court at the request of the FID I had said it was a big gun without a bullet, but now that one examines these charges against the law I would say it is nothing more than an imitation gun, lacks any legal life, a nullity.”
“The FID abused their office, it is not their call. You don't go in a capricious manner and pick up people and bring them before the court as they did,” he insisted.
Wildman said now that the application had been filed he was expecting that things would move quickly.
“We expect to get an early date… that's the beauty about judicial review, it is supposed to be a very quick process relative to other matters in the Supreme Court. Once we are successful here, whatever happened in terms of the proceedings in Half-Way-Tree, the grant of bail, the conditions, everything would have to go, there would be nothing against them,” he added.
The attorney said one of the remedies his clients were requesting was a stay of the proceedings.
“Once we get leave we are asking that the charges be stayed, that is to say everything to do with Half-Way-Tree will be stayed, including reversing the bail and all of that. The effect of a stay is to rewrite history, as if nothing had happened. Everything will be reversed as if nothing had happened, that's the effect of a stay. We are very confident; we are fortified by the Court of Appeal case involving INDECOM,” Wildman told journalists.
Wildman also said the FID should rightly have investigated the matter and then turned over the evidence to the director of public prosecutions (DPP) or the commissioner of police.
Asked whether it was too late for the FID to make a right turn so an authorised body could take up the case, he said: “We would be taking issue with that because what you would be doing is taking these persons through a process they have already gone through. We would take issue with fresh charges being laid. There is a principle in law known as abuse of process which we would look at because you would have subjected them to all of this treatment.
“I am not saying anybody else can't take up the matter, but what the FID has done is a nullity and there will be consequential effects for the FID. This a major blow to them, it is a major blunder. The charges are liable to be quashed; we are also seeking to get a prohibition to prevent them from getting any fiat from the DPP. A fiat can't be given to an entity, it has to be given to a person, so FID could not have gotten a fiat from the director of public prosecutions,” he said.
Yesterday, Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn, when contacted, refused to speak on the matter. “I have absolutely no comment to make, redirect your queries to Mr Wildman or the FID,” Llewellyn said.
When the Jamaica Observer contacted the FID's offices it was told the entity was already closed for the day and its chief technical director, Robin Sykes, had already left for the day.
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