Privy Council ruling reignites scrutiny over ministers’ involvement in Frank Smith corruption trial

Privy Council ruling reignites scrutiny over ministers’ involvement in Frank Smith corruption trial
Opposition leader Philip Davis.

FNM chairman says now is not the time for division or politics, but unity

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Privy Council’s decision to reject a bid to appeal Frank Smith’s acquittal has reignited opposition criticism over the role of two sitting Cabinet ministers in the corruption trial.

In a statement today, Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis underscored justice has been served in the decision of the appellate court to refuse the government’s attempt to appeal Smith’s case.

Davis said Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis must now make a decision about the conduct of ministers Duane Sands and Marvin Dames, whose actions were strongly criticized by the judiciary.

The Opposition leader also called for Attorney General Carl Bethel to be placed under the spotlight for allowing the case to proceed.

Davis said while he was pleased with the Privy Council ruling, he remains saddened about people who seek similar justice but do not have the resources to take their matters to the highest court.

“This strengthens my resolve that one day God willing as prime minister, I will do my utmost to help the poor and the dispossessed,” he said.

“I make that pledge today. Thank you all Bahamians for your prayers and support. God is in charge.”

The Privy Council has refused the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution’s attempt to appeal Smith’s acquittal, ruling that there was no risk that a serious miscarriage of justice occurred in this case.

Attempts to reach the attorney general were not successful.

When contacted, Free National Movement (FNM) Chairman Carl Culmer said he will not speak to the case itself; however, he noted the FNM is pleased with Sands and Dames, and the impactful contributions they have made in office thus far.

In his statement, Davis said: “We have previously asked for their resignations and if they failed to do so we asked for their dismissal.

“The eyes of the public must also be on Attorney General, Senator Carl Bethel who allowed this case to go forward when he must have known the state of the evidence.

“…The state has wasted millions of public dollars. The costs of bringing foreign counsel and other costs have not been handled in a transparent way.

“There has been no accountability for the conduct of the state; and the entire effort against former Senator Smith and former Minister Shane Gibson has ended in abject and complete failure.

Last May, Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt determined there was no case for Smith to answer.

She said the prosecution failed to prove that Smith, the former Public Hospitals Authority chairman, received bribes in the amount of $60,000 from the complainant, Barbara Hanna, between 2016 and 2017.

Hanna, the owner of Magic Touch Cleaning, was awarded a $516,000 contract to clean the critical care unit of the Princess Margaret Hospital.

Following her ruling, Ferguson-Pratt said the award of a second contract of $1.8 million by Sands after the complainant made the corruption allegations, raised a “specter of impropriety”.

Ferguson-Pratt noted that Sands awarded the contract without the approval of the PHA board.

As it relates to Dames, who met with Hanna before she made her official complaint, Ferguson-Pratt said the meeting with the complainant was “unorthodox to say the least”.

FNM Chairman Carl Culmer

Speaking with Eyewitness News, Culmer said said both ministers have made impactful contributions, including the response to Hurricane Dorian since last September and with the current threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

He said this is not the time to get “into things that separate us”.

“I think there is a time to do that,” Culmer said.

“I would like us now to focus on the challenge that we have, and you know the PLP is always looking for an opportunity to get political. I would say, let’s leave that for another time and let’s move forward. I see this as Bahamians should be united now and see how we can combat this challenge that we have.”