Contractor alleged he reported bribes for Gibson to police because he feared for his life
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Jonathan Ash, the key witness in the bribery trial of former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson, testified yesterday that he gave between $5,000 and $10,000 to numerous former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) MPs.
Continuing his testimony in the Supreme Court before Justice Carolita Bethel, the contractor said he gave funds to the then MPs for Carmichael, Golden Gates, Southern Shores, Golden Isles, Sea Breeze, Yamacraw, South Beach, Bamboo Town and Garden Hills.
Despite the PLPs for those constituencies being well known, Ash told the court he did not wish to call their names. He alleged they sent their colleagues to collect the funds.
The businessman did not detail why he allegedly gave money to certain PLPs, but told the court he wanted the party to win the general election. He also indicated Gibson, who he referred to as “general” and “big man” was central to these arrangements.
Ash has alleged that he paid Gibson’s associate Deborah Bastian $250,000 on the former minister’s behalf. He has also claimed he directly paid Gibson $80,000 — all based on an arrangement made to expedite payments owed to him for post-Hurricane Matthew work at five dumpsites and in Centreville.
Ash said the direct payments took place in secret meetings at the gun range and on Baha Mar Boulevard between January and March 2017.
Those payments allegedly began after a January 2017 meeting with Bastian and Gibson at a building on Meeting Street.
Yesterday, Ash recalled that he wanted to acquire land from the Bahamas Agricultural Industrial Corporation (BAIC) and sought Gibson’s help.
He said Gibson advised him to speak to then BAIC Chairman Dion Smith and he subsequently told Gibson he would “give him something” to give to Mr. Dion Smith — for the property.
Ash explained in court that he meant he had “cash to bless Dion with to get the job done”. However, Ash never said how much money he allegedly gave Smith.
Of the four properties he was assisted “none was legit, all was just a bunch of crap”.
The court was told Bastian will not testify for the prosecution.
At this, Keith Knight, QC, who leads Gibson’s defense, asked Justice Bethel whether the defense could approach Bastian.
The court was presented a bundle of extracts of WhatsApps conversations between Ash and Gibson.
Ash read from numerous Commonwealth Bank statements, which the prosecution said proves the contractor was paying bribes to Bastian and Gibson.
While the bundle of cheques entered into evidence do not link Gibson directly, on at least two occasions, bank records indicate Bastian signed for and cashed $20,000 on Ash’s behalf.
He said the money cashed was part of his funds he had to pay Gibson as part of their arrangement.
The prosecution also played a series of voice notes extracted from WhatsApp conversations between Gibson and Ash.
In one note sent around 2:23 pm on February 10, 2017, Gibson asked Ash: “Any shingles today?”
Ash told the court that shingles was the term used for the bribe money.
James Guthrie, QC, the lead prosecutor, asked how the matter of the bribes came before authorities.
Ash replied that following the May 2017 election the prime minister was speaking about him in the House of Assembly and people began to call him about all the money he had made.
“All I hear is people start calling me; ‘oh man, you make all this money we heard; man, the PM (prime minister) has your name ringing’…,” Ash told the court. “I said are you serious?”
He continued: “At this time I begin to think, oh Lord, I between a rock and a hard place. I got a ‘lil afraid for my life because then I know what was happening, and then I know what happened. Me, being the type of guy that I am, I said before I get take out, let me come forward and say what happened. The police never arrested me. They never come and tell me to testify. Everything I am doing, I did on my own as a man because I was afraid. I have a wife, I have children and I have people that I love and I couldn’t just let my life be taken out over some matters that I didn’t had no control of, so I went and seek out police.”
Under questioning, Ash also told the court that he paid the bribes to get the money owed to him because “that’s how the country works”
When Guthrie asked if he was granted immunity for his testimony, Ash said he was offered immunity, which he took in order to protect himself.
However he said: “I agreed to testify even before they offer me it.”
Ash is expected to be cross-examined by Knight today at 11 a.m.