Thu | Nov 23, 2017

FLA's folly! - Convicted criminals, friends of board members granted gun licences under questionable circumstances

Published:Sunday | August 20, 2017 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
The Firearm Licensing Authority on Old Hope Road, St Andrew.

As the probe deepens into the questionable granting of gun permits by the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA), there are more indications emerging that the stench of corruption has engulfed the entity for many years.

Late last week, a letter allegedly penned by a staff member of the FLA provided damning allegations of a systemic corrupt ring operating inside the agency, with calls for some persons to be removed and a probe conducted.

Among the allegations was one of a woman granted a licence for a firearm solely on the basis that she was a friend of a member of the board which recently resigned.

The letter writer also charged that a dealership licence was approved by the Dennis Wright-led board based on the recommendation of a senior staff member, who was aware that the person granted the approval was not the original applicant. This was a clear breach of the FLA rules.

Subsequent checks by our news team revealed several similar cases going back many years.

Sunday Gleaner sources last Friday pointed to an applicant who was convicted of illegal possession of firearm and money laundering in the United States before being deported to Jamaica. He applied for a firearm permit and was denied in 2011 but was approved on appeal in March 2012.

In another case, the applicant was found to have been convicted and sentenced for illegal possession of firearm and ammunition in 2011 and his April 2014 application denied. This was overturned on appeal in June 2014.

The sources also pointed to a case in 2013 where it was found that the applicant had been charged with illegal possession of firearm and the FLA's report revealed that he "has intemperate habits". In October 2013, his application for a 12-gauge shotgun was denied and it was recommended that a licence for a 9mm pistol which he held should be revoked.

But he was later granted the licence for the shotgun and given back the 9mm licence on appeal.

In the latest case, the sources said a known political activist was arrested and charged with lottery scamming-related activities but the case was dismissed after the arresting officer resigned from the police force. He was denied a firearm licence by the FLA and appealed to the then Kent Pantry-led review board, which upheld the decision. But in 2016, the decision was overturned and the licence issued.

Last Friday, one former chairman of the FLA, Robert Gregory, told our news team that if the facts stated by our sources are correct, then the persons would have been disqualified from holding a firearm licence.

Gregory noted that the FLA had a five-member board and at least three of the five signatures would have to be on every file whether the application was denied or approved. He said typically, you would have all five board members signing the documents.

According to Gregory, he could not comment on the alleged irregular cases during the period he chaired the board as he would have to see the files, which would have all the details.

"So show me the file and I can tell what happened. The file is complete; everything from the investigator's report all the way through. It has the input from the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB), the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB); all that information is what we take to determine what to do.

"We would not deny and then grant again unless there are extremely extenuating circumstances that would support it, and all of that would be on the file," said Gregory.

"The decisions made by the authority, certainly in my time, were based on the input from the CIB, investigator, from the NIB, and in some instances we call in the applicant and sometimes the family members for interviews to clarify the situation.

"If such a thing (an applicant who was initially denied being granted a licence) happened, the reason for it happening and basis on which it happened would be there on the file as well, and explained," added Gregory.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com