NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Jamaican attorney Keith Knight, QC yesterday called the Minnis administration’s handling of two former Cabinet minister’s corruption trials “a travesty of justice”.
Knight, who headed the defense in both the Shane Gibson and Frank Smith corruption cases, was a guest on Beyond the Headlines with Clint Watson last night.
In Jamaica, he has served as minister of national security, minister of justice, minister of foreign affairs and minister of foreign trade.
“There was no legitimacy whatever to the charges of bribery,” he said.
“They were non-existent and it’s a mix-up everything except evidence and lawful behaviour.”
Last week, Gibson was found not guilty by a nine-member jury on all 15 counts of bribery brought against him.
In 2017, Smith was charged with abusing his Public Hospital’s Authority (PHA) chairman position, after Barbara Hanna, the owner of Magic Touch Cleaning, was awarded a $516,000 contract to to clean the critical care unit of Princess Margaret Hospital.
Earlier this year, Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt threw out Smith’s corruption case, ruling there was “not a scintilla of evidence to support the fact that there was a meeting between Barbara Hanna and the accused prior to the award of the contract”.
Prosecutors filed an appeal against the magistrate’s decision; however, the Court of Appeal unanimously rebuked the application.
In the lead up to the 2017 General Election, the Minnis administration ran on an anti-corruption platform.
Soon after coming into office, several former Cabinet ministers and senior government officials were hauled before the courts.
The government also introduced anticorruption legislation that have since bene stalled.
Knight yesterday commended the intention.
“Rooting out corruption is a noble idea,” he said.
“We as a people must want that to happen because it affects the economy. It affects us individually because money that ought to be used for the improvement of the quality of life of our people goes into the hands of corrupt individuals.
Knight said: “It’s a noble idea. But what must happen is, you don’t just pick out some people, you don’t go on some fanciful route, you get the evidence, you present the evidence, do the proper investigation and then convictions will flow.
“But if it is done in the haphazard way in which both Frank Smith and this case was done, then it’s not going to happen.”
Noting that similar occurrences are happening throughout the Caribbean and the world, Knight underscored that “politicians must understand their role”.
“Their role is not to investigate cases,” he continued.
“They must not be involved in that process. That is a matter for the police. The police having investigated, it’s a matter for the director of prosecution to determine whether they should proceed with a prosecution cased upon what is presented.
“If that is done, and it was not done properly in this case of Shane Gibson neither in the case of Frank Smith, then we can have justice.”
The veteran politician and attorney said he was “alarmed” and “disappointed” at some of the evidence that was revealed during the two cases, particularly the involvement of Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands and Minister of National Security Marvin Dames in the Smith matter.
During the case, it was revealed that Sands had awarded a second contract of $1.8 million to Hanna, and that Dames met with Hanna before she made an official complaint to police.
In her ruling on the matter, Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt decried the “egregious” conduct of both ministers.
“It ought not to have happened,” Knight said.
The attorney further called into question how the police handled the investigation of the Gibson case.
As for whether Gibson will bring action against the government, Knight said, “Well, that’s a matter that is going to be taken by members of my team and himself. The position is, at this point, it is an inclination of that because of the travesty of justice.”
Hours after the Gibson decision was announced, Attorney Carl Bethel confirmed the director of public prosecutions has no intention to appeal the acquittal.
Bethel noted the jury’s deliberation was made without any answer from the defendant, and with only one character witness.
In a statement, he said: “The jury have spoken and every Bahamian must live with that conclusion.”
Bethel added: “The jury are judges of the facts and if they conclude that the facts presented do not amount to bribery then this verdict will undoubtedly be the standard by which we will be bound to judge any such future conduct by public officials in The Bahamas.”