The Office of the Attorney General has launched its bid to appeal the acquittal of Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Senator Frank Smith on bribery and extortion charges before the Privy Council, but a member of Smith’s legal team last night called the move a further waste of taxpayer dollars.
“They served us with notice of their intention to file for special leave to appeal,” Damian Gomez, QC, told The Nassau Guardian. “We’re opposing it.”
The Court of Appeal in August unanimously refused to order that Smith be retried, as it dismissed an “unsustainable” appeal by the Crown.
Prosecutors had asked the court to set aside the decision of Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt to acquit Smith because she found his accuser, Barbara Hanna, was an unreliable witness.
Yesterday, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) claimed that on October 16, the government “without making a formal announcement to the Bahamian public” filed the application to the Privy Council.
“In doing so, they have let go of the first QC (queen’s counsel) who was unable to secure a conviction and have now hired yet another high priced QC named Peter Knox,” the PLP said.
“They have not disclosed how much the previous QC cost the Bahamian taxpayers, and they have not disclosed how much the new one will cost. Our information is that the going rate is at a minimum of $20,000 per day.”
But Attorney General Carl Bethel yesterday denied that the government paid British Queen’s Counsel Edward Jenkins $20,000 a day to lead the prosecution, or anything near that.
“That’s absolutely inaccurate,” he said.
While he did not reveal the cost, Bethel said, “It was at minimum cost. Costs were extremely reasonable. They were not anywhere near the $1.2 million the PLP paid for mere legal advice in the Baha Mar matter.”
But the PLP yesterday demanded answers from the government over the Smith matter.
“No secrets should exist on this matter by this government,” he said.
In its statement, the PLP also said, “In appealing to the Privy Council, they have to get over the law which says that the decision of the Court of Appeal is final. The decision therefore appears to many as a persecution of Frank Smith by the FNM in pursuit of victor’s justice.”
But the attorney general said, “I’m not going to argue a legal point. In the Sidney Stubbs case, the law said the decision of the Court of Appeal was final on a matter of bankruptcy. That did not stop the PLP government from applying for special leave to apply to the Privy Council against that apparent finality of the Court of Appeal decision.”
The AG added, “When throwing rocks, they need to remember the glass house that they live in and their own record. I think that they should stop making political comments about a criminal case because they are seeking to drive a purely legal matter into the realm of politics and this is utterly unworthy of an official opposition. I’m not getting into these emotional kinds, or sentimental kinds of things, or popular kinds of things.”
He noted that the matter is in the purview of the independent Director of Public Prosecutions Garvin Gaskin, who was unreachable yesterday.
Shortly after the PLP’s defeat in the May 2017 general election, Smith was charged with abusing his position as chairman of the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA), by demanding and receiving bribes from cleaning company owner Hanna over the award of a 2016 contract for the critical care block of the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH).
In February, Ferguson-Pratt acquitted Smith.
PLP Leader Philip Davis, who, according to the evidence, sent Hanna to Smith in 2015 after she had not heard from the tender board in respect to her bid, said the prosecution was politically motivated.
Yesterday, Gomez said Smith’s team has until Friday to respond to the arguments the prosecution has made for leave to appeal to the Privy Council.
He said he can not understand why the AG’s office won’t drop the matter.
“All they’re doing is throwing away public money,” he said.