Editorial | The outrage of Cash Plus
Paula Llewellyn is not on entirely firm ground with her suggestion that people like Locksley Comrie are not entitled to their outrage over the collapse of the criminal case against Carlos Hill, the boss of a dodgy investment scheme that crumpled 10 years ago, leaving thousands of Jamaicans out of pocket to the tune of more than J$10 billion.
For, while Mr Comrie, who spewed invective from his wheelchair outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, and others believe that they were cheated out of their money in an investment vehicle that has been likened to a Ponzi scheme, may not have filed criminal complaints or offered evidence against Mr Hill, this newspaper is not convinced that the law-enforcement/criminal-justice system distinguished itself in this matter.
Indeed, it was found wanting.
We, of course, appreciate the basis on which the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which Ms Llewellyn heads, withdrew its case against Mr Hill at the very start of the hearing. He was arrested in 2008, and, as a condition of bail, has had to report once a week to the police. The case was postponed several times.
Its final collapse was because critical witnesses did not turn up, or could not be found, and the Crown felt that there was not reasonable prospect that they would ever give evidence. The situation, the prosecution felt, had been oppressive to the accused, denying him a fair hearing within reasonable time.
"They have to understand that you cannot get a conviction against another citizen in the criminal courts unless you are prepared to give evidence," said Ms Llewellyn in her excoriation of people who "berate the prosecution because we were not able to wave a magic wand and provide a conviction".
Fair enough within the specific confines of the case that the DPP took to court. But it is not unreasonable, we believe, if an accounting was demanded of Ms Llewellyn, senior police investigators, and others in law enforcement for the unfolding of this matter.
Handful filed complaints
Cash Plus had an estimated 40,000 accounts and/or investors. A handful filed complaints against the company and its principals, who were charged with 15 counts of fraud. It has not been revealed what was the level of coordination between investigators and prosecutors during the evolution of the case, or if, and when, there were signals that key witnesses had lost, or were losing, interest.
While Mr Comrie and others may not have voluntarily filed complaints against Cash Plus and Mr Hill, was it not possible for rigorous investigators, guided by astute prosecutors, to be proactive in seeking out, and persuading, more among the 40,000 to prefer charges and provide witness statements? Further, given the likelihood, in Jamaica's history, of fading interest by witnesses in delayed cases, there are questions about whether more could have been done to accelerate this one.
People will wonder, too, if the fraud charges against Cash Plus/Mr Hill were the only criminal cases that might have been filed. It is perhaps now moot - or perhaps not - whether Cash Plus, or persons connected thereto, fulfilled tax obligations. Did they meet all requirements pertaining to financial services and related legislation, including those aimed at preventing money laundering in which the State, rather than individuals, would be the complainants? The point is that in cases such as these, there may be more than a single route to justice and the prevention of outrage.