A key prosecution witness in the corruption case against former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Cabinet minister Shane Gibson maintained that he had to pay bribes in order to get money that was due to him, as the defense for the fourth day tried to trip him up on details large and small.
Gibson, 58, is accused of taking $280,000 from businessman Jonathan Ash in exchange for approving payments for money owed for work concerning the cleanup associated with Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Prosecutors allege that Ash paid Gibson $200,000 in bribes through Deborah Bastian, who worked at the National Recovery and
Reconstruction Unit (NRRU), and made the remainder of the illicit payments directly to Gibson, who had ministerial responsibility for the NRRU.
During cross-examination by Keith Knight, QC, Ash acknowledged that he never told police in his witness statements that Bastian asked him for $250,000 for Gibson, as he previously testified. However, he said that’s what he understood her to mean after she allegedly requested the money immediately following a meeting he’d had with Gibson and Bastian in January 2017 over the government’s failure to pay him.
Knight asked, “Did you ever say Ms. Bastian said I need $250,000 and I told her she got to be joking?”
Ash said, “I said that but I corrected that in my second statement.”
Knight continued, “Did you ever say that Ms. Bastian said I need $250,000 for Mr. Shane Gibson?”
Ash replied, “Not in those words.”
Knight asked if he ever said that Bastian asked for money for Gibson in his second statement.
Ash replied that when Bastian asked for the money, he understood that “in order to be paid Mr. Gibson had to be paid”.
Ash recalled, “She said I had to forego $250,000. They had a lot of money for me in 2017. I had to forego $250,000 for me to receive my money.”
Knight asked, “Did she explain to you what ‘forego’ means?”
Ash said, “She just used the words.”
Knight suggested that Ash was really being asked to lower his bills.
But Ash replied, “The money wasn’t paid to the government, a parliamentarian got the money— Mr. Gibson.”
Knight asked, “On what basis do you say that?”
Ash replied, “Mr. Gibson demanded the money and right after that I started to get paid.”
Knight asked, “When did he make the demand?”
Ash said, “That’s what I believe.”
Knight said, “There’s a difference between I need $250,000 and I need $250,000 for so and so.”
Ash replied, “The WhatsApp messages speaks for itself. Any shingles today? It speaks for itself.”
Ash was referring to a WhatsApp message in which Gibson asked about shingles: Gibson’s reported code word for cash.
Knight also questioned Ash about assistance he received from Permanent Secretary Jack Thompson and then Financial Secretary Simon Wilson in getting his money.
Ash acknowledged that both men helped him get his money.
Once again referring to WhatsApp messages outside the charged period, Knight suggested that Ash and Gibson maintained a cordial relationship after his party’s defeat at the May 10, 2017 general election until the current administration froze an account at Commonwealth Bank.
Ash acknowledged that his account was frozen but added, “I went to police before that.”
Knight asked, “The freezing order, in it, the government was charging that you fraudulently received public funds.”
Ash replied, “I never saw it.”
The case continues.