Businessman Jonathan Ash remained a forceful witness as his cross-examination by the lead lawyer for former Cabinet Minister Shane Gibson dragged on another day, as he refuted suggestions that his testimony was in exchange for prosecutorial immunity and the removal of a freeze on one of his bank accounts.
Keith Knight, QC, kept Ash on the witness stand for six days before finally wrapping up his questioning on Wednesday afternoon as he continued to refer to phone calls and documents that were outside of the period charged in the indictment.
Instead of getting worn down, Ash maintained his denials that he had falsely accused the former minister in the Christie-led Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration of corruption.
Gibson, 58, is accused of pocketing $280,000 in bribes from the contractor in order to accelerate his payments for work associated with the cleanup after Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
Prosecutors allege that Ash paid the bribes between January 2017 and March 2017 after he started to run low on money to pay his workers.
They say $200,000 of the bribe money was paid through a middle-woman, Deborah Bastian; then they say he made the remainder of the payments directly to the accused.
Knight charged, “Mr. Ash, two things were operating on your mind when you went to police: immunity and freezing order.”
Ash said, “You could take it now and I’d do the same.”
In his testimony, Ash said that he received his first outstanding payment from the government after he gave Bastian a $50,000 bribe for Gibson. He said that he took $25,000 from his account at Commonwealth Bank and the remainder from a stash that he kept at home.
Knight suggested that this was untrue. He said, “On January 17, 2017, no cash was withdrawn from your account from Commonwealth Bank.”
Ash replied, “You do know I have more than one account at Commonwealth Bank, right?”
Knight charged, “I’m suggesting that you never gave Mr. Gibson one dime, one dollar as bribe money.”
Ash replied, “I gave him bribe money. You can see it. It’s in the WhatsApp; it’s in the texts; it’s obvious.”
The prosecution has introduced WhatsApp messages and voice notes between Ash and the accused that appear to confirm his claim of secret meetings.
In some of the messages, Gibson asks “any shingles today” and Ash refers to dropping off shingles, which he has testified was the code name for cash.
Knight also suggested that any money he gave Gibson was for campaign donations.
Ash shot back, “It was not campaign money; it was the demand money.”
Knight continued, “Let me suggest to you, that when you need help in getting paid you went to Mr. Rahman, Jack Thompson, Simon Wilson and Deborah Bastian.”
Ash replied, “And Mr. Shane Gibson.”
Knight said, “You never, ever went to Mr. Gibson to ask him at any stage to speed up any payment for you.”
Ash replied, “I went to Mr. Gibson for my money after he did a stop order on it. It’s right there.”
Knight referred to a statement that Ash made to investigating officer Assistant Superintendent of Police Deborah Thompson when he said he didn’t get a stop order from anybody.
Ash acknowledged the statement but explained, “I said that in terms of working.”
Knight suggested that Ash and Bastian had a good relationship. Ash said that she had a better one with Gibson, who had brought her back to the National Insurance Board after she had retired.
Knight asked Ash why he still assisted Gibson with his campaign despite paying bribes.
Ash replied, “When your hand is in the lion’s mouth, you don’t just yuck it out. Ya (sic) take ya time.”
Ash has testified that he was motivated by fear when he went to police.
When the jury asked him to explain that fear yesterday, Ash said that he was afraid of the gang members whom he had been urged to hire by Gibson and then Prime Minister Perry Christie, many of whom were wearing ankle bracelets and on curfew. Ash said that he had to hire police on payday to make sure there were no altercations.
Ash added that he received death threats from an entertainer and a man from Nassau Village after current Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis revealed the amount of money he’d received from the PLP government.
Ash returns to the witness stand today to be re-examined by the prosecution.
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