(CNS): In rejecting Canover Watson’s appeal against his conviction in the CarePay corruption case, the Appeal Court of the Cayman Islands reinforced the trial judge’s assertion that, as a member of a statutory authority board, he was indeed a public officer and his position was within the ambit of the Anti-Corruption Law. The panel found that all the grounds of appeal were “wholly without merit”, including his claim that he was a “volunteer” and therefore outside the corruption legislation.
Watson was charged with six offences and was found guilty by a jury on two counts of conspiracy to defraud, one count of conflict of interest, one count of fraud on government and one count of breach of trust but he was acquitted of money laundering. The trial judge, Justice Michael Mettyear, handed him a seven-year jail sentence in February 2016.
The crimes had taken place when Watson was chairman of the Health Services Authority Board, and the corruption charges against Watson rested on whether or not he was a “public officer”.
His lead defence lawyer in the appeal, Tom Price QC, who did not represent him at trial, argued that he was a “volunteer”, since the stipend he received as HSA chair ($100 per meeting and around $15,000 in total) was merely to cover his expenses. It could not be regarded as “emolument” for a public officer, as defined in law, and the judge had therefore erred in his direction to the jury.
The panel rejected this argument, noting that the term “emolument …was easily wide enough to encompass stipend”. The judges also found that there was no evidence that he was paid on the basis of reimbursement for expenses but on a set basis. Under HSA law, he was entitled to that payment, “and that makes him a public officer, whether or not he was in fact paid”.
The trial judge had stated in his directions to the jury that, as a matter of law, Watson was a public officer, and the panel agreed, saying, “He was entitled to direct the jury as he did.”
In another submission argued in court, Price said the trial judge had not been sufficiently clear in his written summation to the jury regarding the conspiracy to defraud charges and that “the jury may have been confused by the judge’s direction”. However, the appeal court found that the judge’s summation had been “crystal clear” as well as “helpful and correct”.
Arguments that Watson had not received a fair trial because his defence had not had sufficient time to examine new evidence that came to light during the trial were also roundly dismissed. All the data on Watson’s desktop at his place of employment, Admiral Administration Limited, had been deleted at Watson’s request and was thought to be lost forever.
However, halfway through the trial a flash drive containing a backup of all that data was unexpectedly found and was used as evidence against him. “Given the implication of this material, the very late disclosure was unfair to the applicant” and made the verdict unsafe, Price said.
But after listening to the sequence of events by Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran, who had also led the prosecution in the trial, the appeal judges found that Watson had indeed been given sufficient time to study the data “and would have been given more time if he had asked”.
The skeletal arguments for appeal that were not argued in court included that the defence had not had time to study 20 boxes of material taken from Watson’s home, which was also rejected. Moreover, the appeal court noted, the boxes came from his house so he could reasonably expect to know what was in them.
And a submission that the number of emails the investigative officers had taken from Admiral, generated using a key word search, was too small and there may have been other emails that could have been used in his defence was described as “wholly unrealistic”.
Watson had also submitted that the adverse publicity had led to an unfair trial. A few days after the beginning of the CarePay trial, Jeffrey Webb, his absent co-defendant, pleaded guilty to corruption charges in the US as part of the massive FIFA scandal, which was covered extensively both locally and internationally.
However, the jury members had been instructed by the judge to disregard those guilty pleas and told they had no bearing on the CarePay case. They were also told to put any rumours and gossip out of mind. The appeal court further noted that Watson had even tried to use the publicity to his own end by trying to shift more blame on Webb.
The appeal hearing began at 10:am Thursday morning and concluded just two and a half hours later with the court rejecting all grounds of appeal and Watson being returned to HMP Northward.