National Security Minister Marvin Dames yesterday “vehemently” denied that he meddled in the police investigation of a corruption complaint against former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Senator Frank Smith.
His denials came during his testimony in Smith’s bribery and extortion trial after Dames admitted to meeting with Smith’s accuser, Barbara Hanna, before referring her to police.
Smith, who is accused of demanding and receiving bribes totaling $60,000 from cleaning company owner Hanna, is the first member of the former government to go on trial for alleged corruption while in office.
Prosecutors allege that the payments were for Smith’s help in Hanna’s securing a $500,000 contract to clean the Critical Care Block of Princess Margaret Hospital.
Smith, the former chairman of the Public Hospitals Authority, has denied charges of extortion, bribery and misconduct in public office at his trial before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt.
Dames revealed that Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands referred Hanna to him shortly after the Free National Movement (FNM) came to power in May 2017.
“As a result of that referral, I initiated a meeting,” Dames said.
Dames said that meeting eventually took place at his constituency office on Portago Road.
While questioned by Smith’s lead lawyer, Keith Knight, QC, Dames, a former assistant commissioner of police, acknowledged that the police were responsible for investigations and interviewing people, and he was responsible for setting policy.
Knight asked, “Is there a distinction between the role of minister of national security?”
“Yes,” Dames replied.
“Is it correct the minister is responsible for policy and the police operational matters?”
“This is correct,” Dames replied.
Dames agreed that the operational duties included taking statements, interviewing witnesses and investigations.
Knight pressed: “If a minister should play any role in any of them, then that would be political interference?”
“That’s correct,” Dames said.
Knight asked: “Would you agree that political interference in a case could be seen as pressure?”
“That’s correct,” Dames said
During her first day of testimony, Hanna said that she felt that she was being pressured. She also claimed that she did not go to the police, but officers made repeated calls to her.
Dames acknowledged calling Hanna 13 times from June 6 through 20, 2017, but he said he tried to reach her after learning from Sands that Hanna had been unable to reach him.
Knight questioned why Dames decided to meet Hanna after his conversation with Sands, instead of referring her to police.
Dames said he was not certain about why she wanted to speak to him.
Knight said, “You knew she was going to speak about a complaint about corruption involving a public officer.”
Dames said, “No, I assumed that.”
Knight said, “You remember telling me ministers have no responsibility interviewing people?”
Dames said, “I didn’t interview her.”
Knight asked, “Are you aware Mrs. Hanna is the only witness as to fact in this case?”
Dames replied, “I’m not the investigator.”
Knight continued, “Knowing it was the wrong thing to do, you meddled in the investigation.”
Dames said, “You’re absolutely incorrect. I disagree totally. Vehemently disagree.”
British Queen’s Counsel for the Crown Edward Jenkins asked, “Did you have any role as to whether Mr. Smith would be charged?”
Dames said he did not.
In response to questions from Jenkins, Dames denied threatening Hanna, asking her to lie or bribing her in any way.
Jenkins asked if Hanna appeared relaxed during their meeting.
Dames described her as “visibly shaken and afraid”.
Also testifying was head of the Anti-Corruption Unit Assistant Commissioner Paul Rolle, who said Dames arranged for him to speak with Hanna.
Rolle said he then referred Hanna to Superintendent Uel Johnson.
Jenkins asked Rolle, “In this case, as far as you are aware, has this case been subject to any political interference?”
Rolle replied, “Not that I’m aware of.”
The trial continues today.