Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Misick attorneys to seek retrial in Turks and Caicos

Published:Tuesday | February 2, 2016 | 2:00 AM
Former Premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands Michael Misick (centre) outside the Providenciales courtroom with co-defendant and former Deputy Premier Floyd Hall (left) and defence attorney Mark Fulford.

Lawyers for former Turks and Caicos Islands Premier Michael Misick will formally file for a mistrial in his ongoing corruption trial today.

When the case resumed yesterday, presiding judge, Justice Paul Harrison, granted Misick's lawyer, Ralph Thorne, Queen's Counsel (QC), an overnight adjournment so that his legal submissions could be made in writing and shared with lead prosecutor Andrew Mitchell, QC, and other defence lawyers who are expected to join in the application for mistrial.

The mistrial application stems from a widely publicised press release issued on behalf of Gordon 'Butch' Stewart, the owner and chairman of the Sandals and Beaches hotel chains, on the weekend.

Sandals Resorts bribery

The press statement made specific reference to Mitchell's opening statement in which he suggested that a US$1.6-million payment from Sandals Resorts International to the former premier was an alleged act of bribery.

Thorne, who is from Barbados, said his immediate concern is that the Sandals press statement is "so highly prejudicial to his client's rights and to his presumption of innocence that it defeats his opportunity for a fair trial".

He added: "It is my view that the prosecution's daily publication of its highly charged opening statement and this statement have had the cumulative effect of scandalising my client, portraying him contemptuously and ultimately depriving him of the right to a fair trial that is guaranteed by the constitution and by the human-rights conventions."

Since the trial started on January 18, some defence lawyers have expressed concern about the daily publication of segments of Mitchell's opening statement on a dedicated website operated by the Helen Garlick-led Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT).

It has been suggested by lawyers that the daily postings do not reflect the many objections that have been made by defence lawyers and that what are only prosecution allegations at this stage run the risk of influencing the minds of potential witnesses.

Yesterday morning, all the defence lawyers met behind closed doors for just over 30 minutes before returning to the court when Thorne addressed the judge.

"These circumstances are grave and weighty in terms of the fairness of the trial," Thorne told Harrison. "It's no light matter at all."

Thorne said he would support his submissions with legal authority based on the constitution of the Turks and Caicos Islands and the "authoritative language" on the European Convention on Human Rights.

Meantime, Stewart said in a press release that the US$1.6-million payment first came to light in the course of investigations by the United States Department of Justice.

Internal investigations

This, he added, triggered a series of internal investigations by Sandals to determine the source of the payment and the responsible parties.

He said that Tom Scott, a retired federal judge and partner in the Florida law firm, Cole, Scott & Kissane, was retained by Sandals to assist with the investigation, and a highly reputable forensic accounting firm in Washington, DC, was also engaged to conduct an in-depth accounting investigation into the affair.

"The results of the investigation and the forensic audit revealed that some US$1.65 million had been paid to Prestigious Properties Limited, a real-estate company in which Michael Misick, Phillip Misick and Washington Misick (current Turks and Caicos Islands minister of finance) were the shareholders, and Chalmers Misick & Co, a firm of lawyers in the TCI. All those payments were made without the knowledge or consent of the principals of Sandals," Stewart added.

He continued: "The unauthorised payments were made by a senior executive and then treasurer of Sandals. This culminated in the separation of the senior executive from the company and was followed by Sandals filing a lawsuit against him in The Bahamas to recover the unauthorised payments.

"The damage done to the company by his actions was substantial. Not only had he betrayed the trust which the chairman and other directors had reposed in him but, based on the level of his authority, the company was legally bound by his actions and this culminated in the company having to absorb a fine of US$12 million imposed by the Turks and Caicos Islands authorities."