Businessman Jonathan Ash delivered explosive testimony Wednesday during the corruption trial of former Cabinet Minister Shane Gibson, providing previously unknown details of alleged campaign donations to members of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and the former prime minister’s meddling in his business operations.
Gibson, 58, is on trial for allegedly taking $280,000 in bribes from Ash in exchange for him speeding up payouts of over $1 million for the removal of debris following Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
Gibson had ministerial responsibility for the National Recovery and Reconstruction Unit that was responsible for approving payments for hurricane-related work.
When Ash returned to the witness stand to continue his testimony, he took jurors through WhatsApp messages, voice notes and banking records. He rocked back and forth and wiped his brow as Gibson stared him down from the prisoner’s dock.
In one message in March 2017, Gibson wrote, “We have Carmichael Road, Golden Gates, Southern Shores, Golden Isles, Garden Hills, South Beach, Bamboo Town, Sea Breeze and Yamacraw. I would estimate we need between 50 and 100. Let me know.”
Prosecutor James Guthrie, QC, asked Ash to explain the message.
Ash replied, “Different MPs in different areas needed $50 to $100,000.”
He continued, “I began to pay different MPs. They would send their colleagues to me but I knew who the approach came from.”
Another message from Gibson read, “The PM said to keep them on.”
Ash explained that he had wanted to fire workers but the prime minister at the time wanted him to keep them on.
Ash previously testified that he had hired a number of workers from then-Prime Minister Perry Christie’s Centreville constituency to help with the debris removal.
In another message, Ash asked Gibson for help with a National Insurance Board (NIB) card for his wife. Ash also sent Gibson a list of names of people he’d employed, according to one message.
Ash testified that various MPs were sending him people to hire and he was confirming the list with Gibson.
After that message, Gibson asked, “Any shingles today?” Ash has said this was a code for cash.
Ash’s testimony ended with the playing of several voice notes that seemed to corroborate his claims of secret meetings between him and Gibson.
In some of the voice notes, Ash referred to Gibson as “boss” and “general”. Ash asked his location and told him that he’s on the way.
In the voice notes from Gibson, he asked Ash to clear down an overgrown lot because he wanted to “impress a constituent”.
The constituent used Ash’s phone to send a voice note thanking Gibson for cleaning up the area.
In another voice note, Gibson gave Ash directions to a meeting spot near a tire shop off Poinciana Avenue. Ash said that this meeting was for the payment of a bribe.
Ash said that he also communicated with Gibson through regular cell phone calls.
Guthrie took Ash through his checking account statements and highlighted transactions of multiple large cash withdrawals that Ash said he made to comply with the bribery demand.
The statements also showed multiple deposits of checks from the Public Treasury that Ash said represented payment for work done.
Guthrie asked Ash how the matter came to the attention of the authorities.
Ash said he became afraid for his life after learning that Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis “had my name ringing through the country” concerning the money he had made.
Ash said, “Before I get take out, let me come forward. Everything, I’m doing on my own as a man. I couldn’t lose my life over matters I had no control of.”
Asked about his immunity from prosecution, Ash said, “Before I got the agreement, I came forward.”
Ash will be cross-examined by Gibson’s lawyers today.