NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Contractor Jonathan Ash insisted yesterday he did now know Deborah Bastian before he was referred to her in January 2017, despite phone records that showed dozens of calls months earlier.
The court was told there were 33 calls and texts between the pair dating back to November 2016.
Prosecutors alleged Bastian received over $200,000 from Ash on behalf of former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson.
Gibson, 58, is on trial for allegedly taking bribes in order expedite over $1 million the government owed to the contractor for the removal of debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
Ash has alleged he gave Gibson $80,000 during secret meetings.
Under cross examination by Gibson’s lawyer, Keith Knight, QC, Ash said he first came to know Bastian in January 2017 after he spoke to Thompson, the then permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister.
Knight asked: “Would you be surprised that you made some 33 calls between you both?”
After a long pause, and Justice Carolita Bethel repeating the question, Ash responded: “I can’t recall your worship”.
Ash confirmed Bastian was listed in his contacts as “NEMA Bastian”.
Referring to the phone records, Knight detailed the dates of each of the calls and asked if Ash recalled them. In each instance, the contractor replied “no sir”, or shook his head.
There were three calls made on November 14, 2016; four calls made on November 16, 2016; and another four calls two days later, among numerous.
“You can’t recall any of those calls?” Knight asked.
Ash said: “No sir”. He repeated that he did not know Bastian until Thompson referred him.
Knight asked: “You never called her before then?”
“No sir, I did not even know the lady,” Ash responded.
Ash also testified that he paid between $12,000 and $15,000 in total to Rahmin, a reported official in the Ministry of Works, whom Ash claimed signed off on cleanup work in Centreville after the storm.
He denied that Rahmin or any public officer made any demands of him for money, saying “I gave him that”.
Ash said he told Rahmin it was “his money he worked for and no one could demand anything of me”.
When asked why he made the statement, Ash said: “I told him that straight up front because I wasn’t interested in being corrupt and I know how people go.”
Knight asked if Ash told Rahmin to “look out for him”.
The contractor said he did not.
Responding to Knight, the businessman denied saying in a police statement that Rahmin had asked him for 10 percent.
Ash said he provided authorities with three statements, one of which was written and he signed off on. He said one of the statements was in reference to a matter unrelated to Gibson.
The court heard that when Ash made a statement to Assistant Superintendent Thompson, Bastian, Alicia Bowe (Ash’s attorney) and Bastian’s lawyer, ‘Rolle’, was present.
He said: “I was saying one thing and Deborah Bastian was saying something totally different”.
The defense questioned the contractor on whether Thompson brought the four together to synchronize statements or to clear up differences between their statements.
Ash denied this and said Thompson “wanted to know the truth”. He noted “some suggestions” were made to him regarding his statement, but he was clear he wanted nothing added other than what he said.
Ash insisted he never changed anything, but could not recall everything he said in the statements he had not read over, unlike the statement which he read and signed.
Knight noted that while Ash was having trouble recalling phone calls and what he said in his statements, he purportedly could recall specific dates of cheques cashed, the amounts, and the portions of funds allegedly paid to Bastian and the defendant.
Earlier in his cross examination, Knight referred to a cheque Ash claimed Bastian cashed at Commonwealth Bank under his instruction to receive $20,000 on February 1, 2017.
Knight said a bank worker – referred to as Mrs. Aranha, claimed in a statement that Ash, who was off the island at the time, said his “aunt was at the branch” and instructed the funds to be paid to her.
However, Ash denied he represented Bastian as his aunt.
Ash admitted that he gave Bastian “lunch money” when asked whether he recalled giving the woman between $800 and $900 for lunch.
Ash said: “Yes, I could recall that. I give her some lunch money. I can’t remember the exact amount, but I did give her some lunch money.”
He said it was a small blessing in an attempt to be “nice” with no strings attached.
Referencing Rahmin again, Ash said there was no pressure to give him money, but if pressure was applied, he would have gone to “Mr. Gibson, who’s his boss”.
Knight asked Ash if knew former Prime Minister Perry Christie, whom he described as Gibson’s boss, well.
Ash said he got to know Christie, the then prime minister, based on the work he did in Centreville.
Ash claimed in court Wednesday that he gave campaign contributions to certain PLPs for the party to “win”.
On the witness stand yesterday, the contractor claimed he gave contributions to both the PLP and Free National Movement (FNM), telling the court he had no problem with either party.
“I support both parties, PLP and FNM,” Ash claimed. He said he supported the PLP’s campaign ahead of the last general election and the FNM ahead of the 2012 election.
When the defense showed a blown-up photo of a crowded PLP convention, Ash identified himself among the crowd of PLPs.
Earlier yesterday, the prosecution called Philip De Narlik, a forensic accountant, who prepared a report on Ash’s bank account and financial records in March/April 2018.
The court heard that the Public Treasury paid Ash $5,432,580.16 between January 2017 and April 2017.
According to the report, Ash wrote cheques during the period totaling $1,138,213.90, and withdrew $434,748 in cash. There was another $131,000 of “probable cash” withdrawn.
Under cross examination, Damian Gomez, QC, asked De Narlik whether it was possible the cash withdrawals were made to pay staff, value-added tax (VAT) and national insurance payments.
De Narlik said it was “certainly possible”, indicating that he could not examine what the money was used for, but only the transactions.
Ash previously testified that the government owed him as much as $1.5 million for work on five dumpsites. He claimed at one point, he was paying 120 workers between $50 and $70 per day out of pocket.
Gomez proposed that if Ash paid salaries for 45 workers at $70 per day for 4 four months, his salary payouts would be $260,000; VAT payments — at the rate of 7.5 percent at the time — which would be made every quarter as a business vendor would be $407,443.51 and the businessman’s National Insurance Board payments would be $27,440.
To the accounting expert, Gomez pointed out the total was just shy of $700,000 — more than the $434,748 in cash and $131,000 in probable cash Ash withdrew during the review.
The attorney for the defense put to De Narlik that based on the costing assumptions and if he did use the money withdrawn to satisfy those expenses, the contractor did not have the money to make bribes he claimed to have made to Gibson.
He also pointed to two cheques of $20,000 each among Ash’s banking records that were not endorsed, and asked if it were possible that Ash did not withdraw cash, but transferred the funds to another account.
De Narlik said it was possible.