Gibson trial: Ash denies police statement linked to immunity deal

Gibson trial: Ash denies police statement linked to immunity deal

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Key witness Jonathon Ash testified yesterday he could not recall whether he was granted immunity by police before making his bribery claim against former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson. 

Gibson’s lead attorney Keith Knight, QC, referred to records which showed that the contractor signed the immunity agreement at the Office of the Attorney General on June 27, 2017, a day before he signed his police statement.

Gibson is on trial for allegedly pocketing the funds from the contractor from January 2017 to March 2017 to the expedite the payments for clean-up work done in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

Ash has testified he paid $200,000 in bribes to Gibson’s associate Deborah Bastian, before making payments — $80,000 — directly to Gibson in secret meetings. 

He claimed he was referred to Bastian, after complaining about to then permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister Jack Thompson about the funds he was owed — over $1 million at one point.

Ash has been granted immunity from prosecution.

Knight referenced cheques the Public Treasury issued to Ash between November 2016 and January 2017 — six cheques in November 2016, 13 in December 2016 and 14 in January 2017 – the contractor acknowledged the payments.

Knight said: “For part of January, you are saying you are paying bribes. In January, there were roughly the same number of cheques in your name or your company’s name?”

Ash replied: “Yes sir.”

Knight pressed: “In January, you are saying you were paying bribes to get your payments?”

Ash replied: “Yes sir.”

Knight also grilled Ash about the nature of his relationship with Bastian.

Ash testified that from time to time he gave her “lunch money”, though he did not recall the amount when Knight suggested it was $800-$900.

On the stand Tuesday, Knight asked Ash if Bastian purchased the shirt he wore at the PLP’s convention in January 2017. The contractor said he could not recall. 

Knight asked: “Ms. Bastian has bought shirts for you?” 

Ash replied: “I can’t recall.”

Knight asked: “You from time to time, gave Ms. Bastian money.”

Ash replied: “Yes sir.”

The defense attorney asked if Ash went to see Bastian while she was at the hospital with a relative.

Ash replied: “We spent about 10 minutes.”

Knight asked: “Not three hours?”

Ash responded: “It wasn’t that long sir.”

“Ever pick up clothes for you at the laundry?” Knight asked.

Ash replied: “Probably sir.”

Knight asked: “And she paid for it?”

Ash responded: “I probably paid her back if she did.”

Knight asked: “Ms. Bastian ask you for money more than once, from time to time?”

The contractor replied: “For Mr. Gibson to pay that bill. That’s what I would say.”

Despite Knight’s suggestions Bastian was asking for money for herself, including the $250,000, Ash maintained the money was a bribe for Gibson.

Knight questioned Ash on the basis he was granted immunity, and referred to records which showed that the contractor signed the immunity agreement at the Office of the Attorney General on June 27, 2017, a day before he signed his police statement.

Knight asked: “Do you understand it to mean that if you cooperated with police that they would not bring criminal charges against you?”

Ash responded: “No sir.”

Knight went on: “Did you understand it to mean that the government had no intention to bring criminal charges against you?

Ash replied: “Yes sir.”

Knight asked: “That immunity was granted to you before you completed giving your statement to police?”

Ash replied: “I can’t recall sir.”

The defense attorney asked Ash whether he was granted immunity after a meeting involving ASP Deborah Thompson, himself, Bastian and their lawyers, but Ash said he was not certain.

Referring to the immunity deal Ash signed on June 27, 2017, Knight asked: “On the next day you went to police?”

Ash replied: “Yes sir.”

Knight asked: “And you gave a statement?”

Ash replied: “Yes sir.”

Knight continued: “And a man to whom you did a lot of favors was Mr. Gibson correct?”

Ash responded: “Yes.” 

He had previously testified to cleaning up Gibson’s constituency without charge as a gesture to the community and erecting billboard for Gibson ahead of the election as part of his reelection bid, as a favor to the then minister.

Knight asked: “And even after the election you were doing favors in his constituency?”

Ash replied: “Yes sir.”

Knight asked: “And even then you were calling him general and boss.”

Ash replied: “Yes sir.”

Knight continued: “And a day after you got immunity, you gave a statement against him?”

Ash said: “They dated it that date. I had already been to the police before that.”

Knight asked: “Did you sign a statement before that statement?”

Ash replied: “I ‘ain’ certain when I sign that sir, but I went to police before I sign.”

Knight also questioned Ash about whether he made changes to his police statement to corroborate with Bastian’s, pointing out that the contractor admitted there were “some differences” between them, but the contractor denied this.

Knight asked: “Were there changes made?”

Ash replied: “Slight changes made; things that was irrelevant.”

Knight asked: “How many?”

Ash replied: “I wouldn’t know sir.”

Knight continued: “Did you make the changes or the police…?”

Ash replied: “I made the changes, but like I was saying, things that were irrelevant.”

Knight asked: “When changes were made, Bastian was there?”

Ash responded: “No sir.”

In response to a question from Knight, Ash said he was unaware the government was investigating him for “fraudulently receiving public funds”. 

He said the government “paid him”.

Knight said: “Well, the government sought the order to freeze [your account] on the basis there was an allegation you had fraudulently received public funds. But you didn’t know?

Ash replied: “No sir.”

Freeze

The court heard that the government froze the contractor’s money. Ash claimed that despite this he was able to conduct business, telling the court the government “froze my money, not my account”. 

To Knight’s question of whether the freeze affected him, Ash said: “Not in terms of day to day business.”

Ash said he could still wire transfer money and deposit funds for example. The contractor also claimed the bank did not advise him that his had an order to freeze his account.

The order was filed on July 20, 2017, Knight indicated.

Knight questioned Ash on whether he knew a James Thompson, who he suggested represented the contractor as counsel when the freezing order was served. 

But Ash said he did not know what the government was doing at the time.

The defense is expected to wrap up its cross examination of Ash today.