Immigration officer denies messages reveal corruption

| 06/02/2019
Cayman News Service

Department of Immigration

(CNS): A senior immigration officer who is currently facing trial in a corruption case relating to bribes over the English Language Test at the department has emphatically denied that messages submitted as evidence against him show his involvement in that conspiracy. Taking the witness stand on Tuesday, he told the court that the messages related to illegal numbers played by many immigration employees as well as his own efforts to find out who was taking cash for tests to try to clear his own name.

The officer, who cannot at this point be named due to legal restrictions, said he was aware of concerns at immigration about the efficacy of the language test and believed he was a target because of the complaints and criticisms he had made about how the department was being run.

The defendant said that, as an outspoken member of staff who was not afraid to point to the problems in the department over a lack of resources, staff shortages and failing systems, he believed he was under scrutiny.

As far back as January 2016, a year before he was arrested and long before the Anti-Corruption Commission began its probe, he already suspected that something was going on and that he was the target of management, but not because he was involved in any wrongdoing.

The case against this officer, four of his colleagues and two civilians accused of finding people who were willing to pay bribes to get through the immigration department’s English Language Test is based almost entirely on messages found on phones seized during an ACC operation.

The crown’s case is that several Spanish-speaking residents became involved in a conspiracy with some immigration staff to charge people, mostly women, who wanted to secure work permits for jobs in George Town bars $600 to get them through the language test, even though they did not speak English, with various people in the chain taking a cut of the fee.

While prosecutors are also relying on the evidence of an accused co-conspirator who has already admitted being involved in the corrupt scheme plus test documents to support the case, the copious amount of WhatsApp messages, which have not been made public, form the bulk of the evidence.

The first of the defendants to take this stand was questioned by his own attorney, several lawyers representing his co-conspirators, as well as Acting Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran, who is presenting the case for the crown.

He said that what the crown suggests are incriminating messages about taking money for tests were not evidence of wrongdoing. He said these were part of his attempts to bait other officers into admitting they were involved in wrongdoing in order to show that it was not him.

Asked to explained why he had passed one person taking the test when it was very apparent from the test paper that she had no English at all, the officer said the woman had been given a special dispensation by the acting chief immigration officer because she was caring for an elderly man who was a Spanish speaker.

He also said that, as testers, they were given discretion and that they could pass people who may not have great writing skills because they passed the oral part of the test.

He told the court that messages that appeared to relate to people getting money were about the numbers game that the officers often played.

The immigration officer also denied that in one message he was getting angry with another officer because he believed he was trying to cut him out of the money he was owed for the tests. In one message, the crown said, he stated that he had “expected to get the lion’s share” of the money because it was “my name on the paper”, which prosecutors say illustrated his exposure.

But the officer refuted the suggestions and said he was throwing out names and engaging in “fluff talk” as part of his strategy to engage other officers to help him find out who, if anyone, was really doing anything wrong by baiting people.

The officer was also pressed about why he opted largely not to comment when interviewed by the ACC officers after his arrest in January and then again in July 2017, and why he did not reveal this information if they were truthful, innocent explanations for the messages.

He said he was told he was not obliged to say anything and he felt he had been treated unfairly in a “mean-spirited way”, when he was held for several days at the detention centre.

But the veteran officer, who had more than 20 years service at immigration, denied that he was ever involved in corruption, that he had ever asked for money help people through the tests, and that he had ever taken any money or done anything wrong.

Accused of taking a lead role in the conspiracy but being smart enough not to contact the test takers and their handlers himself and work through other officers, he said that was a “definitive no”. He also denied getting the lion’s share of the profits.

He refuted the prosecutors’ suggestion that things got ugly and began to fall apart when he believed other actors in the conspiracy were making side deals.

When asked if he did not tell the ACC investigators, at the time of his interviews, about the alternative explanation for the messages “because it was rubbish”, the officer replied, “That’s a no as well.”

The case continues.

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Category: Courts, Crime

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