A prosecutor yesterday described former Minister of Labour and National Insurance Shane Gibson as a corrupt official who abused his position for personal gain.
Gibson, 58, faces 15 counts of bribery concerning his alleged conduct from mid-January 2017 to the end of March 2017.
The case revolves around contractor Jonathan Ash who prosecutors say was owed upwards of one million dollars by the government for work done as part of the cleanup following Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Ash allegedly paid Gibson bribes to speed up the payment process.
Lead prosecutor James Guthrie, QC, told the nine jurors in his opening statement that Ash was “desperate to be paid”.
Guthrie said that Ash went to Jack Thompson, then a permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, who sent him to a Deborah Bastian, who, in turn, arranged a meeting with Gibson in January.
Prosecutors allege that following this meeting, Gibson received payments from Ash through Bastian, but later those payments were made directly.
According to the indictment, Gibson asked for $330,000 and received $280,000 in bribes from Ash during the charged period.
Ash has been granted immunity from prosecution, Guthrie said.
Guthrie told jurors that they will see WhatsApp messages between Ash and Gibson and Ash’s bank statements that showed he withdrew substantial amounts of money.
Guthrie acknowledged that Ash’s actions were also criminal, but he alleged that Gibson was the person “who instigated it”.
Guthrie said that the case was not about politics. He said, “Nobody is above the law; equally, everyone is entitled to the same fair trial.”
After the opening address, jurors heard from Gregory Butler who as deputy director of urban renewal participated in the post-hurricane cleanup in conjunction with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Butler recalled meeting Ash in 2016. According to Butler, he was getting gas from the Ministry of Works when Ash approached him looking for work.
Butler said he referred Ash to the late Bruce Walker, the coordinator of the cleanup effort, “to seek help”.
Butler said although he didn’t know Ash, he spoke to Walker on Ash’s behalf “because he seemed to be a young man who needed help”.
Butler, who helped oversee the cleanup in Centreville, said that work was sourced to people from the community. He said Ash initially represented himself to be from Centreville, but he later learned this was untrue.
Butler said that Ash was one of the contractors who worked in the Centreville constituency where he also worked.
In cross-examination, Damian Gomez, QC, who represents Gibson, asked Butler, “Did you get money from Mr. Ash?”
Butler made the sign of the cross and exclaimed, “No, sir.”
Gomez followed, “Would you be surprised that he said that you did?”
Butler replied, “So I’ve heard. I took no funds from him.”
Butler said Ash was among many contractors who complained to him about non-payment.
Butler said that he spoke to Bastian on Ash’s behalf.
Commonwealth Bank employee Audrey Dames produced Ash’s banking records.
Gibson was supported by relatives, former Prime Minister Perry Christie and former Senator Frank Smith, who was acquitted of bribery charges earlier this year.
The trial continues today.
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