Key witness claims workers sent to him were gang members being electronically monitored
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The prosecution’s key witness in the bribery trial of Shane Gibson yesterday denied he was being untruthful in order to protect the former Cabinet minister’s associate Deborah Bastian and his immunity deal.
Contractor Jonathan Ash has alleged that he paid Bastian, an employee at the National Recovery and Reconstruction Unit, $200,000 to Bastian on Gibson behalf and $80,000 directly to the then minister — all between January 2017 and March 2017 — to induce payments owed to him for work on five dumpsites and in Centreville in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
Gibson has denied the charges against him.
Defense attorney Keith Knight, QC, continued his cross examination of Ash for the sixth day in the Supreme Court before Justice Carolita Bethel and a nine-member jury.
Ash on Tuesday maintained that he went to the police before he got an immunity deal against prosecution on June 27, 2017. The court heard that Ash signed his statement provided to authorities on June 28, 2017.
As he suggested the contractor was being untruthful because of the deal he got, Knight said: “Let me tell you something. You are lying on Mr. Gibson.”
Ash replied: “No sir.”
Knight continued: “Lying for a number of reasons.”
Ash replied: “No sir.”
Knight pressed: “Lying because of the deal you got the day before you gave your statement.”
Ash against replied: “No sir.”
Knight added: “You’re lying to protect Ms. Bastian.”
Ash responded: “No Sir.”
In response to continued suggestions from Knight that he was being untruthful about bribing Gibson, Ash exclaimed: “I am not lying. You are lying for Mr. Gibson. You are, not me.”
Knight asked: “Are you of the view that I am lying for Mr. Gibson?”
Ash replied: “I am not answering that.”
When the question was repeated, Ash responded: “You are telling me I am not speaking the truth. My statement, the WhatsApps, the text messages, the ‘shingles’ — it’s all there. I am not lying.”
Knight told Ash that he previously agreed on the witness stand that Gibson was a good man.
The contractor responded that those were Knight’s words.
Ash maintained that Bastian asked him for money on behalf of Gibson.
He testified Monday that when Bastian told him “I need $250,000” after a meeting with her and Gibson, he assumed the money was for the minister.
Knight asked: “When she said ‘I need $250,000’…”
Ash interjected: “She never said ‘I’. She say she need the money.”
The defense read the transcript from Monday to Ash, before suggesting to him that “everything single thing you have said about Mr. Gibson demanding money from you is false.”
Ash replied: “No sir.”
Knight pressed: “Everything single thing you have said about the meeting in various locations to receive money from you as bribes is false.”
Ash again replied: “No sir.”
The defense also suggested that on the day Ash claimed he made two payments of $25,000 to Bastian —the same day he claimed to have met she and Gibson at a “pink building” on Meeting Street — there was no record of the funds being withdrawn from his bank account.
However, Ash claimed he only said he got funds from Commonwealth Bank in Oakes Field, telling the court that he had a number of means of obtaining the funds, including withdrawing from his savings account, his credit card or cashing a cheque.
When Knight asked if he withdrew the funds from the account, Ash said he could not remember.
The defense lawyer also suggested Ash was a “dangerously untruthful person”.
Ash previously testified that he became fearful for his life after the prime minister informed Parliament of money the contractor had been paid and went to authorities.
He clarified for the jury that he was fearful because the men whom he hired, many of whom were recommended to him by Gibson, had electronic monitoring bracelets and were affiliated with numerous gangs.
He said when he did not have funds to pay them because he had not been paid, the men confronted him threateningly.
Ash also testified that after the prime minister revealed the money he was paid, he received death threats.
He claimed someone even sent him photos of dead bodies and told him he better leave the country.
As Knight continued to probe the contractor, the defense lawyer asked whether he had any challenges with the customs in 2013 that resulted in the comptroller imposing custom duties on goods he had imported.
“Am I correct, the comptroller found you had submitted false declaration of entry?” Knight asked.
Ash replied: “Yes sir.”
Knight said based on his understanding of the matter, Ash was not truthful with customs — a suggestion Ash denied.
Knight proposed: “A false declaration means it was not a truthful one.”
Ash replied: “I’m a businessman… If someone gives a wrong entry…”
Before he could finish, Knight said: “The comptroller said you gave a false declaration.”
The contractor conceded the point.
He also conceded that in 2017, he submitted a false invoice.
Knight asked: “Mr. Ash, do you agree with me that on a number of occasions, including 2017, you have provided false information to agents of the state — comptroller of customs correct?
Ash replied: “At some point.”
Knight then suggested to Ash that he submitted false information to authorities concerning Gibson.
Ash responded loudly: “No sir.”
Knight read a text extract from Ash’s phone dated June 24, 2017, in which the contractor said: “Good morning mum. How are you today. Just wanted to say thank you for everything you do. My lawyer wants to speak to me at 10 a.m. I will inform you want she says. I don’t know what they want.”
The defense lawyer asked Ash if ‘they’ referred to the police, but the contractor said he could not recall.
Ash confirmed, however, that he went to police around that time.
When asked whether he knew why the police wanted to see him when he sent the text, Ash said he did not.
During cross examination on Tuesday, Knight referred to Ash’s banking records and put to him that he received six cheques in November 2016; 13 cheques in December 2016 and 14 cheques in January 2017.
He suggested that the contractor received the same number of cheques during the month in which he alleged to have bribed Gibson to expedite payments.
The defense team also explored Ash’s banking records for the months of February and March.
The court heard that Ash texted then Financial Secretary Simon Wilson on February 2, 2017, and asked him to help him and his workers get paid.
Asked if he sent the message, Ash responded: “That probably could be true.”
According to banking records entered into evidence, Ash was paid $206,400 on February 3, 2017.
He also received cheques of similar amounts of February 8, 14, 16 and 21.
“I never denied getting paid in February,” Ash noted.
Knight put to Ash that all of the cheques he referred to came after he texted Wilson asking for help.
Ash acknowledged that he asked Wilson for help, but maintained that he received the payments as a result of bribes he allegedly paid Gibson.
Knight referred to another text Ash purportedly sent to Wilson on April 13, which read: ‘Can I come now sir’ and a second text on the same day that read ‘any word yet?’. He noted that according to bank records, Ash received a cheque for work on April 18 — five days later — for $227,587.50.
Knight also read a purported text Ash sent to Wilson on March 16, 2017, that read: “10 minutes away”. Knight referred again to the contractor’s banking records, noting that he received three cheques on March 21.
Knight suggested that Ash was paid as a result of him speaking to Wilson, then permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister Jack Thompson, Mr. Rahman in the Ministry of Works, whom he claimed he gave funds to, and Bastian.
The defense lawyer suggested to Ash that when he testified about giving political contributions to certain PLPs, he “gave Mr. Gibson a campaign contribution three times for his campaign”.
“No sir,” Ash replied.
Ash conceded that Gibson gave him a list of suggested names to provide campaign contributions to, including former Senator Keith Bell, but the contractor maintained that money provided to Gibson was bribe money.
Knight reminded Ash that he testified to doing work in Gibson’s constituency free of charge, and erecting billboards of the then PLP candidate as a favor to him.
Knight put to Ash that he never gave Gibson “one dime, one dollar as bribe money; never.”
The trial continues today.