By Latrishka Thomas
The bus conversion saga came to an end yesterday with the three former Cabinet ministers on trial being acquitted of all three charges – embezzlement, conversion and corruption – against them.
Loud cheers reverberated from one court room to another after Justice Colin Williams declared that Wilmoth Daniel, Harold Lovell and Dr Jacqui Quinn had no case to answer.
The trio had been accused of using three Daewoo buses donated to the former administration by the government of South Korea for their own personal gain.
It took the judge more than two hours to dissect the two weeks’ worth of evidence which led to his decision on the ‘no case’ submissions.
Last week, defence attorneys – Anesta Weekes QC assisted by Charlesworth Tabor for Lovell, Dane Hamilton QC assisted by Leon Chaku Symister for Quinn, and Justin Simon QC assisted by Sylvester Carrott for Daniel – argued extensively for the entire case to be struck out.
They said that the charge of embezzlement was defective because the words “being employed in the public service” were absent and according to the constitution a government minister is not employed in the public service and therefore cannot be charged with embezzlement.
In addition, they stated that the charge of conversion was not satisfied since the prosecution failed to show how the buses were misused and, similarly with the charge of corruption, did not provide evidence as to how the buses were “improperly” used.
The judge in his ruling stated that, in relation to embezzlement, the omission of the term “being employed in the public service” was not “fatal” but he agreed that the former ministers could not be tried as according to the law.
He went on to say that there were other errors in the charge of conversion but they were merely typographical. Nevertheless, he said that the Crown failed to prove that the buses were entrusted to the government and then converted by the defendants.
And lastly, Justice Williams could not find sufficient evidence of the improper use of the buses.
He therefore upheld all of the submissions and returned a formal verdict of not guilty.
Family, friends and supporters of the three defendants were elated at the news and began a small motorcade in celebration.
While the car horns were being honked outside the Parliament Drive complex, the former Cabinet ministers unpacked the decision.
Quinn said that she was glad that “the judge saw it for what it was, a political witch hunt” but is “hurt by what this government has done to me”.
“Seven years my life has been on hold. My reputation has been dragged through the mud by this government. I have lost opportunities for employment. I have to teach students at the University of the West Indies Open Campus and Five Islands Campus who are thinking, who the hell is this woman – criminal conversion, fraudulent,” she explained.
As a consequence, she announced that she will be pursuing legal action against the government.
“I am going to put this government on notice that I am going to challenge this because this is malicious prosecution that has happened for all these years in order to bring down the leadership of the United Progressive Party and, well, Mr Daniel and I were just collateral damage. That is a quotation from somebody out of Cabinet who said that to me,” Dr Quinn stated.
Lovell also expressed his satisfaction at having been exonerated but said he saw it has a win for the general populace.
“This is a victory for the people of Antigua and Barbuda because it’s a victory against victimisation. It is a victory against spite and malicious prosecution,” he said.
“I am very happy we have been vindicated and exonerated and I am very happy because this is the second time that this has happened.”
Daniel said he “had no doubt that we would be victorious”.
“I knew because I had a bottle of cream in my hand yesterday and, while I was standing, it drop out my hand and I say that’s the case,” he shared, explaining why he had a nonchalant demeanour yesterday.
“I have been praying now for weeks since we have been undergoing this situation here. We have suffered,” he added.
Meanwhile, one of the lawyers, Hamilton, commended the judge for doing a “tremendous job” noting that he “took his time and examined every facet of the case”.