AIS owners question political not legal, claims QC

| 01/02/2016 | 0 Comments
Cayman News Service

Trevor Burke QC

(CNS): The issue of who was behind the local company that secured the lucrative hospital contract was a political issue and not a legal one, Trevor Burke QC said Friday, as he summed up the defence against corruption charges for his client, Canover Watson. He told the jury that the only reason that questions were asked about who were the beneficial owners of the firm was because people suspected it was the former premier and the former health minister.

Watson has claimed throughout the trial that he was never an owner or any kind of beneficiary of AIS Cayman Ltd. He has said that the real owners were Doug Halsall, who owned the parent company based in Jamaica that supplied the payment and verification system, and his close friend and business partner in other ventures, Jeffrey Webb.

The crown has presented a mountain of paperwork and electronic communication that it says proves beyond doubt that Watson was also an owner, who not only creamed off what could be millions of dollars from the public hospital contract but also manipulated the system while he was chair of the Health Services Authority Board in order to do so.

However, Burke argued that what the crown claims is incriminating evidence proving Watson’s involvement, the benefits he received and the plans he had for more financial gain if things had gone according to plan were false assumptions, mistakes by others, Watson’s passion to ensure he turned around the disastrous financial situation at the hospital and the direct request from the minister that he was the ‘point man’.

Burke told the jury that the issue was a political one and implied that Moses Kirkconnell, the current deputy premier but a member of the opposition at the time, had an interest in the contract because he is a shareholder in the local IT firm, Brac Informatics. The incorrect suspicions of the medical director at the time, Dr Greg Hoeksema, and then chief information officer, Dale Sanders, led politicians to get involved in an area of business that would not normally be relevant. Burke suggested that no one would ask a firm like Dart, if they won a contract, exactly who their beneficial owners are.

The defence lawyer reminded the jury of a meeting in Washington in which Sanders told then health minister Osbourne Bodden and Kirkconnell, both newly elected ministers, that he believed the beneficial owners of AIS Cayman Ltd could be former health minister Mark Scotland and former premier McKeeva Bush. This happened, Burke noted, against the backdrop of Bush’s own legal troubles and allegations of corruption, for which he was later tried and acquitted by a jury.

Clearly hoping for the same outcome for his client, Burke said the crown and the defence did not agree on a single substantive issue in this case and the members of the jury would have to decide on a verdict which would allow them to sleep at night, based on whether or not they believed Watson’s claims about the evidence.

He re-emphasised his client’s position that there were a number of inadvertent mistakes by his personal assistant, Miriam Rodrigues, that led to Watson’s name appearing on the documents to establish AIS Cayman Ltd and a ‘doctored contract’ that appeared to justify the lucrative national rollout being sent out mistakenly to civil servants.

He also pointed the finger at Webb for creating false documents found on Watson’s computer that appeared to show attempts to deceive banks and launder funds. He said money coming into his accounts from AIS Cayman Ltd was not his share of the corruption cash but genuine payments of debts owed him by Webb.

He claimed that spreadsheets and budget plans were merely speculative predictions that Watson had created when Halsall had offered Watson a job with AIS as a consultant, which the lawyer said he never accepted because the minister begged him to say at the helm of the HSA board and see through the implementation of the system.

Burke told the jury that it was the minister who asked Watson to work closely with AIS to ensure the initiative was a success. Watson has also claimed that the minister went against his advice for a single source tender purely because of the politics associated with Brac Informatics Centre, which also wanted to bid for the payment contract. When BIC did not submit a bid, Scotland had given Watson the green light to look at the AIS tender bid on the eve of the Central Tender Committee meeting to formally open the bids.

Burke focused heavily in his defence submission that the CarePay system was the ‘holy grail’ for the HSA, something that every person wanted and the only system in the world that could address the hospital’s bad debt problem — a point the crown had contested but had not proved wrong, Burke said.

Raising the issue of the missing witnesses, he told the jury members that while they should not speculate on what might have been said, he suspected that Doug Halsall could have provided a rich vein of evidence, as could Mark Scotland and others, such as Karen Barnett, who reportedly made many errors in the accounts reconciliation for Halsall after he raised concerns about what was happening to the cash in Cayman.

He said the verdict was a matter for them but they must consider the plausibility of Watson’s case and the details he gave to explain the payments made to him from Webb, and he emphasised that unless the jury believed the crown had proved Watson received corrupt payments, there was no case against him.

As he closed his submission, Burke told the members of the jury that if they believed Watson was telling the truth and there was doubt in their minds over the crown’s view of the evidence, the prosecutors had failed to prove the case and they should find Watson not guilty.

The case was adjourned Friday until Tuesday morning, when the presiding judge, Justice Michael Mettyear, will be summing up the facts of the case for the jury of six women and one man and directing them on the law.

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Category: Courts, Crime

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