Sun | Sep 24, 2017

US agents to seize $100m held in Jamaica by imprisoned accountant

Published:Wednesday | March 9, 2016 | 3:00 AMLivern Barrett

Agents of the United States (US) Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are expected to travel to Jamaica in the coming days to take possession of just over J$100 million, or close to US$1.7 million (at the exchange rate that existed between 2011 and 2014), which local authorities have traced to Jamaica-born accountant Pamela Watson.

Watson is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence in the US on fraud charges.

Robin Sykes, chief technical director of the Financial Investigations Division (FID) of the Ministry of Finance, declined yesterday to elaborate on the planned handover "before it is all tied up with the Americans", explaining that he did not want to frustrate the process.

However, according to local law-enforcement sources, FID investigators discovered approximately US$535,000, or approximately J$64 million, in an account linked to Watson at one licensed financial institution and J$46 million at a second financial institution.

"They (FID) have traced and restrained J$107 million. The money has been forfeited to the State and they are working with the IRS to have the cheques handed over shortly," one source revealed.

"Two of the cheques, amounting to US$535,000, are already prepared and they are waiting on the other company to liquidate some assets in her (Watson's) name," the source added.

Law-enforcement sources also believe that Watson made a significant investment in a popular local entity and revealed that further investigations are being conducted.

Watson, who has been described as a very popular activist in the Jamaican community in South Florida, was given a 78-month prison sentence last December after pleading guilty three months earlier to operating a tax-refund scheme that defrauded clients - mainly Jamaicans she claimed she was helping - and the US government of US$3.6 million.

US District Judge James Cohn also ordered her to pay restitution in the same amount.

 

TAX RETURNS FALSIFIED

 

During sentencing, it was revealed that Watson made restitution totalling US$1.2 million to the IRS in the seven months she was in custody awaiting trial.

She admitted in court that she falsified hundreds of tax returns and refund amounts on IRS forms without her clients' knowledge.

The court also heard evidence that she diverted money to her own accounts and accounts belonging to her spouse.

The FID boss disclosed that Watson was the subject of a proceeds-of-crime probe being conducted by his agency.

He also acknowledged that the J$107 million linked to Watson was under restraint by local authorities, but indicated that it was removed in light of a parallel investigation by US authorities.

"Once we realise that things were taking a certain direction abroad, then it would sort of nullify our proceedings here. So, for example, if there is a live order abroad, then we have to take a strategic decision," Sykes told The Gleaner.

"Do we continue with our proceedings, knowing that there is a competing interest and thereby create confusion? Because that could happen, so sometimes you have to take a strategic decision," he continued.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com