Minister reveals connection to AIS ‘sham’ directors

| 16/12/2015 | 0 Comments
Cayman News Service

Marco Archer, Minister of Finance & Economic Development in the LA

(CNS): One of the men that the crown says was a ‘sham director’ of AIS Cayman Ltd, the company awarded the multi-million dollar contract for the hospital payment and verification system, has very close connections to the finance minister, the jury heard Wednesday. Marco Archer explained that he has known Eldon Rankin for more than 35 years and that he is the father of Archer’s niece. The minister said that Rankin, who is also a close family friend, was the guarantor for his own university scholarship and he knew that Rankin was also the father of Jeffrey Webb’s sister.

Taking the witness stand on Wednesday in the CarePay corruption trial, Archer explained that when he discovered that Rankin, who is in his 70’s, was named as a director of the multi-million dollar high-tech software company, he wondered how he could possibly have become involved as he no experience at all in the technology industry.

The minister also revealed that he knew Joscelyn Morgan, another of the directors that the crown claims was put in place by Canover Watson and Jeffrey Webb to cover up that they were the real beneficial owners of AIS. Archer said he did not know Morgan as well as he knew Rankin but he did know that he was a bookkeeper and involved in local football, which was where he would generally interact with him.

Archer said he could not work out how Rankin could have wound up as a director in such a firm, alongside Morgan, as neither of the men had any technology experience, let alone management experience of such a specialist software company. But the minister said he did draw a connection between the men and Jeffrey Webb because of Rankin’s relationship to him and Morgan’s involvement in football as a local coach.

Archer said that he first began looking at AIS following a Finance Committee hearing that took place in June 2014, where questions were put to Lonny Tibbetts, the CEO of the government’s health insurance company, CINICO, by MLA Ezzard Miller about the company and its real owners. The questioning increased from members of the committee during that meeting and it became clear that more information was needed. Archer explained that, as chair of the committee, he made a commitment to the members to investigate the firm that had won such a lucrative contract, which still appeared to be causing problems.

After he requested and received the CarePay contract and AIS registration documents, he learned for the first time that Rankin, who was primarily a contractor and owner of some small businesses, was one of the directors. Archer said he had never seen Rankin use a computer and did not believe he even know how to use email or text, but he was listed as managing this high-tech information software company.

Archer explained how he continued to look into the circumstances surrounding AIS and the contract, but more questions were being asked and reports appeared in the local press, and soon afterwards he received a call from Watson. The minister said that he did not have a relationship with Watson, the HSA chair at the time, and had only met him on a number of occasions.

Archer told the court that Watson said he wanted to talk with him to set the record straight about what he said was misleading information coming from Ezzard Miller and to reassure Archer that there was “nothing funny” or untoward about the AIS CarePay contract.

Archer said the call came from overseas and he felt it was inappropriate because he didn’t have a relationship with Watson and there was nothing he could do to rectify what Watson believed was a misunderstanding by Miller.

Although he was planning to investigate AIS Cayman Ltd and the contract further, Archer said that very soon after his conversation with Watson he received a call from the police about AIS. It was then that he learned that the Anti-corruption Unit had been investigating the issue by then for some two years and they asked the minister to stop his own internal investigation.

Archer told the court that he asked them what had taken so long and offered to assist all he could. As a result, he organized a meeting with civil servants involved in the contract and the police to help move things along. The minister pointed out that having constitutional responsibility for public finance, he felt it was his duty to help the police and if possible speed up the investigation. He made it clear, however, that while he had assembled the various public sector employees connected in some way to the CarePay contract, he did not stay at the meeting and left before the police engaged in any discussions with the players involved.

During cross-examination by Watson’s attorney, Trevor Burke QC, Archer said he had no idea about the FOI request that had been made by Dale Sanders, the hospital’s former information technology boss on behalf of Moses Kirkconnell, who is now a Cabinet colleague. Archer told the court that it was the first time he was hearing about the request and indicated that when it was made in 2011, he did not even know Kirkconnell.

Archer also denied knowing anything about a meeting that had taken place between Kirkconnell, the health minister at the time, Osbourne Bodden, and Sanders in Washington in 2013. He said that neither of his Cabinet colleagues had given him any information about their enquiries or the results of the FOI request.

He said he was unaware that Jonathan Tibbetts, who is now the chair of the Health Services Authority Board, had a family connection to Moses Kirkconnell, but as they were Brackers, he was not surprised. He said he was aware that Tibbetts was the general manager of Cayman Brac Power and Light Company, in which he understood Moses Kirkconnell had an equity interest. But Archer denied having any knowledge of Brac Informatics’ interest in the payment contract or that it is owned by Kirkconnell’s sister and that the tourism minister has an equity interest in that firm as well.

Canover Watson is charged with several corruption and fraud offences in relation to the CarePay contract, several of which he is jointly charged with his friend Jeffrey Webb, the former president of the Cayman Islands Football Association. Watson is also charged with one count of money laundering alongside his former PA, Miriam Rodrigues. The crown has not yet called any witnesses to support the charge against Rodrigues.

The case continues.

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