Passport fraud trial takes shocking turn, defence challenges judge’s jurisdiction

Suspended Superintendent of Police Ray John (Observer photo)
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By Latrishka Thomas

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The passport fraud trial that implicates a high-ranking police officer has taken a surprising twist, leaving spectators astonished.

After their initial “no case” submission failed, defence attorneys Hugh Marshall and Michael Archibald sought to challenge the judge’s jurisdiction in the case.

Suspended Superintendent of Police Ray John and his former partner Shakema Charles are on trial for allegedly conspiring with Vincentian resident Lonzel Jones to forge passport bio pages using unauthorised Multi-Layered Infilling Sheets between January 1 and April 7 2018.

Charles, a former employee of the Antigua and Barbuda Passport Office, is also accused of conspiring with John, who is said to have received 16 of the infilling sheets.

The defence – Hugh Marshall for John and Michael Archibald for Charles — had argued last week that the evidence presented by the prosecution was insufficient to support a finding of guilt.

However, Justice Tunde Bakre ruled that the court’s concern at this stage is whether there is a prima facie case against the defendants, not the weight of the evidence.

Undeterred, Marshall made another application, asserting that only the receiving charge can be tried by a judge alone as outlined in the Criminal Proceedings (Trial by Judge Alone) Act 2021, and that the accused did not give consent to be tried without a jury.

Additionally, they claimed that the indictment was defective because it contained charges that could be tried by judge and by jury.

Acting Director of Public Prosecutions Shannon Jones-Gittens expressed frustration with the defence for waiting until this stage to make such an application, accusing them of “attempting to derail the trial”.

She argued that the defence knew since 2021 that the matter was being treated as such and never objected.

Jones-Gittens then pointed out that the legislation was amended in 2023 to ensure that a mix of charges is not considered defective.

She also posited that although conspiracy is not listed as a judge-only matter, forgery is, and since the charge in question is conspiracy to forge, it must be included with the substantive offence.

The DPP indicated that it was up to the defence to submit the necessary paperwork for a jury trial, suggesting that their actions implied they believed the case could be tried by a judge alone.

Marshall countered by stating that ensuring the case’s proper handling was not their responsibility.

The judge is expected to rule on this new application on March 8 or sooner.

Synopsis of the trial

Evidence presented in court suggests that John and Charles provided infilling sheets and other documents to Jones in St Vincent.

John had reportedly contacted Jones sometime prior and hired him to create fake passport bio pages for persons wishing to purchase land, promising him a substantial compensation.

Witness testimonies indicate that John asked a longtime police friend, Superintendent Lisborn Michael, who was travelling to St Vincent in April, to deliver an envelope to Jones without disclosing its contents.

Jones then created the documents and delivered them to John’s nephew, Geraldo James, but the transaction was intercepted by Vincentian police.

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