Justice Stalled

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More than a year after bringing bribery charges against former Democratic Labour Party government minister Donville Inniss, United States authorities are still trying to gather evidence to prove their allegations.

The trial that was set to be heard before District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto on October 28, has now been moved to January 6, 2020, for jury selection and commencement. Consideration has also been given for a possible January 13 start, following the jury selection a week earlier. A number of pre-trial motions which were to be filed by prosecutors by June 7 have not been and the adjournment is to facilitate this process.

But according to sources, United States officials have been in contact with Barbadian authorities in an effort to have a current senior manager at the Barbados Investment Corporation (BIDC), whose identity was ascertained by Barbados TODAY, travel to the United States to give evidence.  That official has refused to travel. However, as a counter, on September 4 the US government made an application to the court to issue an order permitting it to take a video-deposition from the Barbadian witness.

“On or about June 27, Barbadian authorities interviewed the witness pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty request from the United States government. During the interview [name of BIDC official], who is a citizen of Barbados, indicated he was unsure whether he would voluntarily travel to the United States to testify at trial . . . On or about July 29, 2019, the government [US] requested that Barbadian authorities contact…and confirm whether he will voluntarily testify at trial. The government has made multiple follow-up inquiries over the past month but, to date, has received no information as to the witness’ willingness to travel to the United States. On or about August 27, 2019, the government was informed that Barbadian authorities are planning to contact the witness during the week of September 2, 2019, with regard to his willingness to testify at trial,” the application to the court noted.

The application to the court also noted that the Barbadian witness was “material to the government’s case” and would provide important testimony about the BIDC, how BIDC selected insurance companies and how the selection process worked in connection with the ICBL contract renewals that were central to the case. The document also revealed that the BIDC management official was the only witness the government intended to call from the corporation. The US authorities have not been given any indication whether the local official will volunteer for a video-deposition.

In a further development in the case, the lawyer for Inniss Anthony Ricco has sought to have efforts by the US government to introduce what he deemed prejudicial evidence rejected. The US government is suggesting that because of his alleged financial difficulties, Inniss took bribes. But Ricco argued that the evidence of motive was collateral and that the US government’s theory was based upon pure speculation and conjecture that unfairly characterized Inniss as a person in significant debt and therefore took bribes.

Barbados’ archaic 1929 Prevention of Corruption Act under which US authorities are basing their allegations against Inniss was also subject of contention in motions filed by the defence and prosecution in the case. The US government sought to have testimony introduced by attorney Thomas Durbin who is reputed to be an expert on the relevant Barbados statute. But it was argued that not only was the legislation a relic of Barbados’ colonial past, but Section 7 of the legislation established a mandatory presumption that shifted the burden of proof to the defendant. It was argued that this not only went against modern US law but was also unconstitutional in Barbados and had been excluded from the updated 2012 Barbados Prevention of Corruption Law that has been passed in both Houses of the Barbados Parliament but to date has not been enacted into law by proclamation.

That specific section states: “Where, in any proceedings against a person for an offence under this Act, it is proved than any money, gift or other consideration has been paid or given to any Government Department or a public body by or from a person or agent of a person holding or seeking to obtain a contract from the crown or any Government Department or public body, the money, gift or consideration shall, for the purposes of this Act, be deemed to have paid or given and received corruptly as inducement or reward, unless the contrary is proved.”  The US government relented to the motion brought by Inniss’ attorney to preclude Durbin’s evidence.

Speaking on condition of anonymity today, a local legal source indicated that under the 1929 Act, in circumstances where most if not all Barbadian politicians annually accepted money, goods and services to stage Christmas parties or other functions in their constituencies, “they would all be guilty of a crime and subject to being charged” until they proved otherwise.

Today Barbados TODAY investigations revealed that an official of the brokerage firm that has sourced insurers for the BIDC for almost a decade was only last year appointed to the same BIDC in a very senior position. Efforts to reach the broker/BIDC official were unsuccessful.

Efforts also to reach Inniss and his legal representatives in the United States tonight were unsuccessful.

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