By Latrishka Thomas
There will be a further three-month wait before the three former Cabinet ministers who are accused of corruption, embezzlement and conversion of three buses in 2008, can appear before the court again in the matter.
It was about two weeks after hearing that they can rest easy, that an application had been made to have the higher court review the decision made by Justice Colin Williams to dismiss the case.
On November 23, the High Court judge returned a formal verdict of ‘not guilty’ in the corruption scandal involving the former United Progressive Party (UPP) ministers Harold Lovell, Wilmoth Daniel and Dr Jacqui Quinn.
The judge ultimately ruled that the prosecution did not offer enough evidence to satisfy any of the charges and consequently upheld the submissions, exonerating the trio.
The prosecution then filed the appeal in December 2021 to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal on 12 grounds indicating how it believes the trial judge erred in law.
They believe, for example, that the judge made a mistake, saying that “the learned trial judge erred in law and misdirected himself on the elements of the statutory offence of conversion generally, and more particularly when he said that, ‘to prove the offence of conversion, the Crown must show that the conversion was fraudulent and dishonest.’
“The learned trial judge erred in law when he said that a minister of government in Antigua and Barbuda was not in the ‘employment of the public service,’ of Antigua and Barbuda and that the three respondents were not public servants or public officers.
“The learned trial judge erred in law when he made a finding that the government was not the owner of the buses. This was contrary to the unequivocal evidence given by the then Permanent Secretary, Ambassador Colin Murdoch and the Audit Report.”
And “the learned trial judge erred in law when he equated the purported authorisation by Ambassador John Ashe to merely allocate the buses as conferring, and or authorising, some personal, legal, and or beneficial rights on all three respondents.”
The crown is hoping that the appellate court will allow the appeal “in whole or in parts;” grant “permission for the appellant to file further or any other grounds on the receipt of the record of the transcript;” “quash and set aside” the judge’s ruling or any other orders the court considers appropriate and just.
This case has been making its way through the court system since 2017, but according to the female accused, “seven years of my life has been on hold. My reputation has been dragged through the mud by this government. I have lost opportunities for employment.”
In 2017, Magistrate Conliffe Clarke dismissed this very case on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions then appealed Magistrate Clarke’s decision on an issue of improper application of procedure and their lawyers fought in the Court of Appeal for the magistrate’s ruling to be upheld.
Then, in 2019, Armstrong refiled the case.
As a result, the case was brought back before a different magistrate, Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh.
She declared that there was enough prima facie evidence against the three accused, and in June 2020, she committed the matter to the High Court.
The appeal was adjourned yesterday until the week of May 23, 2022.