By Elesha George
After a full day hearing and cross-examining one witness, the trial of three former government ministers accused of corruption, conversion and embezzlement about how they acquired ownership of three 2008 Daewoo buses alleged to be donations to the government, continues this morning.
Day two of the trial began with the identification of dozens of exhibits from the first witness – retired police investigator Marlon Proctor.
The court recorded more than 40 exhibits to include the initial interview of all three accused, diplomatic notes issued between 2006 and 2016 from the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance – Ambassador Colin Murdoch, as well as insurance certificates, invoices, cash receipts and search warrants pertaining to the investigation.
The investigator provided documents which showed that Dr Jacqui Quinn-Leandro, Harold Lovell and Wilmoth Daniel, who were sitting ministers at the time, each registered and insured one bus each in their names.
The trio’s initial interview with police was reenacted in court, revealing that all three denied using the buses for their benefit and said they were used to transport community groups and individuals within the St George, St John’s City East and St Phillip South constituencies respectively.
Both Lovell and Quinn-Leandro denied ever having the bus on their property, driving the bus or personally benefitting from its use.
Quinn-Leandro told the police then that the bus had been registered and insured in her name because she took “financial responsibility” for the vehicle which she said was “owned in common by the community”.
She claimed she only acted as a trustee and paid for things to include petrol, snacks and drinks when the bus was being used to transport people to the Clarehall clinic for sporting activities and on senior citizen tours.
Lovell on the other hand said he was approached by the late Dr John Ashe – who at the time was serving as the permanent representative for Antigua and Barbuda at both the United Nations and the World Trade Organization – who informed him that he would be able to obtain a bus for community development in his constituency.
He too said he was only the “custodian” of the vehicle which was registered and insured in his name.
In the recollected statement Daniel also denied driving the vehicle or personally benefitting from its use but told police that he instructed the bus be brought to his home based on a conversation he had with Dr Ashe who indicated that he owned it.
Documents were tendered into evidence showing that there was in fact an email sent to Ambassador Murdoch by Dr Ashe confirming that Daniel was the owner of the vehicle.
In the statement, Daniel said had he at any time known the vehicle did not belong to him, he would not have spent thousands of dollars maintaining and ultimately refurbishing it years later.
Based on court documents, Dr Ashe was the one who secured the buses for the three MPs.
Meanwhile, during cross examination of the witness, it was revealed by Justin Simon QC that there was a fourth bus that was being investigated around the same time.
The investigator however said that the case for the fourth bus was dropped because it was registered under the name of a community group in Clarehall.
“If the three accused did not put the buses in their name, I don’t think they would be in court today,” he told Daniel’s lawyer.
Cross examination also revealed that in Dr Quinn-Leandro’s case she did not sign the registration form nor the insurance form for the bus she is accused of fraudulently acquiring and converting.
In fact, her lawyer Dane Hamilton QC argued that his client’s signature was not on any document the witness submitted to the court as evidence.
He also argued that the prosecution had no evidence to suggest that the bus was being used for anything other than what Dr Quinn-Leandro stated.
Upon full cross examination, it was continuously revealed that the investigator never spoke to Dr Ashe even after claims that he was the one who secured the buses on the MPs’ behalf.
“I don’t think he was available. I don’t think he was in Antigua and Barbuda,” he told the court.
All three lawyers however argued that there were other ways to reach the ambassador who for years was known to reside out of state.
“There was no communication from the one vital witness – Ambassador Ashe,” attorney Anesta Weekes QC stressed, making the point that there was no evidence to suggest that what Dr Ashe told Lovell was a lie.
The investigator agreed that there was no evidence to suggest that Lovell used the bus for his personal business and the investigative team “accepted” that the people in the community had access to it.
The case was adjourned until 9am today.
The current government alleges that the buses were a donation from the government of South Korea to the then United Progressive Party (UPP) administration but were used for MPs’ personal business. All three deny the charges against them.