By Latrishka Thomas
The first day of the highly anticipated ‘bus conversion’ trial saw only one witness after hours of discourse.
Former finance minister Harold Lovell and two of his former United Progressive Party (UPP) colleagues, Dr Jacqui Quinn and Wilmoth Daniel, are facing charges of embezzlement, corruption and conversion.
They allegedly converted three Daewoo buses donated to the former UPP administration by the government of Korea, worth $218,520 each, for their personal use, and had them registered at the Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board, in their names, while they were in public office.
The judge-only trial day began promptly at 9am yesterday with Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) of Montserrat, Oris Sullivan, the lead prosecutor in the matter, applying for changes to be made to all the indictments consisting of nine counts – three per defendant.
He asked that some of the information detailing the particulars of the offences be edited.
First, he requested that the dates within which the offences allegedly occurred be changed to April 23 2008 to December 31 2015 for each count.
Other minor changes were made, but the most fundamental was that of the corruption charge.
It was altered to say that between the aforementioned date in Antigua and Barbuda, the defendant “improperly used for his or her own benefit or that of a third party, property namely, one Daewoo motor bus …. belonging to a public body namely the government of Antigua and Barbuda, which he or she had access to as a result of the performance of his or her functions as a public official”.
The amendments were met with opposition by the defence attorneys – Anesta Weekes QC assisted by attorney Charlesworth Tabor for Harold Lovell, attorney Dane Hamilton QC assisted by attorney Leon ‘Chaku’ Symister for Dr Jacqui Quinn, and Justin Simon QC assisted by attorney Sylvester Carrott for Wilmoth Daniel – in the matter.
Firstly, Weekes questioned why the changes were being made and asked for clarification.
Hamilton then argued that the amendments pose “an absolute risk of injustice” to his client.
He said that the change to the corruption charge in particular, “constitutes a different offence.”
Simon shared the same thought saying that it “fundamentally changes the offence”.
The prosecution responded by saying that “there are different ways corruption can be committed,” citing Section 3 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 2004.
He added that “the amendment reflects the state of the evidence as it is now”.
“There is no injustice” because “we are at this early stage” where “no witness has been called,” he continued.
The judge then stated that “an amendment is a pretrial consideration” and they had many case management sessions yet “no amendments all this time”.
He concluded that “it is a fundamental change” but allowed the amendment and ordered that the accused be arraigned again.
The trio once more pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
After a break, the court resumed at 2pm and the first witness was called to the stand.
The witness is one of the investigators in the matter.
He testified to executing search warrants at insurance companies where he obtained documents pertaining to the buses.
He said that he also obtained documents from other individuals including Ambassador Colin Murdoch who was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time.
The witness said that he kept a record of all the documents he collected in an Excel sheet and also signed each hard copy.
However, the documents could not be shown to the witness since it appeared that neither the judge nor the defence had copies.
The matter was then adjourned to this morning where that witness will be called back to the stand.