Legal action threatened over 'false' news report

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The head of the prime minister’s scholarship programme, Maurice Merchant, is refuting a radio news article reported on opposition owned Crusader Radio which suggests he’s involved in fraudulent activities.
Merchant, who was contacted by OBSERVER media regarding the claims surrounding alleged cash transactions and scholarship funds paid to a student, says the claims in the opposition news report are totally inaccurate.
In his written reply late last night, he said, “I have instructed my lawyer to immediately commence action against Crusader Radio, the reporter and its principals for libel, relating to a news item which suggests fraudulent activities involving scholarship funds.”
He reiterated, “The report is totally false. At no time have I received any funds in any shape or form from the students as reported by crusader radio and this false reporting is another attack by crusader radio and its principals on my character.”
According to Merchant, he has ongoing legal action against Crusader Radio and its principles for another instance of libel. This matter is still pending before the court.
Speaking more specifically to the allegations of the latest news report which is being circulated on social media, Merchant said, “The scholarship rules require for a student who changes from one institution to another which requires less funding than the original institution, that those funds are returned to the government. There are established guidelines to administer this procedure.”
Observer media has been following the matter and based on the record of the court, there was no trial and the student named in the news report, Kadisha Proctor, did not give any testimony nor did she speak at the proceedings last Friday, neither did she allege to the court that she gave money to Merchant or anyone.
However, on Friday, there was a sentencing hearing for a man, Collin Browne, who robbed the student of the scholarship funds. He pleaded guilty a month ago.
The summary of the evidence given by Crown Counsel Shannon Jones-Gittens at the sentencing, was that the student received a scholarship to study in the US, but her visa application was rejected early last year and she was forced to remain at home in Antigua and Barbuda.
Another scholarship was then offered to her to study at the Antigua and Barbuda International Institute of Technology  (ABIIT), which meant that the $27,000 issued to cover expenses abroad had to be reduced to what local scholarship students received.
Since the cheque had already been approved for studies abroad, she was required to return the extra $13,500 to the Prime Minister’s Scholarship Fund.
The student alleged she was advised she had an option to reimburse the money by cheque or cash and she decided to take cash.
On the day she went to the bank in May 2017, she was followed by a career thief, Collin Browne, who had been observing her movements from the city.
He robbed her just as she began making her way up the road leading to the Prime Minister’s office through which the scholarship programme is operated.
Browne, who had no lawyer, said after he robbed the student, he ran and hid the money in a spot at Yasco Sports Complex but when he returned some time later it was gone.
Surveillance camera at the Prime Minister’s office picked up the robbery and helped solve the case.

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