For the first time in 10 years, an Antiguan man can rest easier since the threat of a criminal trial no longer hangs over him – neither will he need to sign in at the local police station three times a week.
On Wednesday a High Court judge ordered a stay of proceedings in a fraud matter brought against Wayne Miguel in May 2010, citing an abuse of process.
The charges were for fraudulent conversion of $475,390 belonging to British novelist Ken Follett of Jumby Bay, Antigua, who was his employer at the time.
The 59-year-old worked as gardener and maintenance manager at Follett’s property, named Bananaquit.
The alleged crime was said to have occurred between October 28 2005 and September 25 2009 when Miguel allegedly abused a visa credit card given to him as part of his duties.
The prosecution’s case said that Miguel was given a Cooperative Bank visa credit card with which he was permitted to make purchases, and keep the receipts to be faxed or FedExed to Follett’s UK staff for account reconciliation.
After a period, Miguel indicated to his UK line manager that goods were cheaper if paid in cash, so he would withdraw cash and send receipts for the items he purchased.
Between April and July 2009, a man visited Bananaquit to fit a new kitchen and noticed transactions reported by Miguel appeared too costly, and simultaneously Miguel stopped using the card.
Suspicions were aroused and it was noted Miguel had purported to buy 87 fans in four years, and examination of the receipts from apparently different companies suggested they had come from the same misleading source, with identical font and stamps, while further enquiry revealed that some companies did not exist and that goods were overpriced.
The suspicious receipts were gathered into a grey box-file and lodged. Miguel was summoned to a meeting with Follett’s general staff manager but failed to attend, offer an explanation, and did not attend a rescheduled meeting.
He was dismissed in December 2009 and handed in the visa card to the manager of Bananaquit.
Defense counsel Andrew O’Kola argued that the 10-year delay amounted to an abuse of process, therefore the indictment should be stayed.
The passage of time has meant that, inevitably, memories must have faded so that it will now be difficult to explain what every receipt was for.
Moreover, throughout the 10 years, the defence had not been given access to the laptop and thumb-drive, neither had it been offered copies of the receipts in the box-file, among several other concerns.
In delivering judgment, Justice Iain Morley said, “it is scandalous, to the mind of any informed third party observer, there has been no trial listing for [approximately 10 years] in an uncomplicated case alleging misuse of an employer’s credit card”.
He added that, “the delay in this case brings the administration of justice into disrepute”.
The Chambers of OMO Law, which was only retained in the matter in 2019, welcomed the recent decision.
“Fundamental safeguards are alive in Antigua and Barbuda. The continued application of general principles of law in constitutional interpretation has once again ensured that fundamental rights, guaranteed to the people of Antigua and Barbuda, are respected,” O’Kola said.
“The interest of justice requires courts to be bold and brave and, in this regard, this judgment is welcomed.”