Sat | Sep 19, 2020

Hylton: I shouldn’t have been charged in the first place

Published:Sunday | August 23, 2020 | 12:33 AMLivern Barrett - Senior Staff Reporter

Anthony Hylton
Anthony Hylton

St Andrew Western Member of Parliament (MP) Anthony Hylton has identified prominent attorney Tom Tavares-Finson as the person who, without instruction, entered a guilty plea on his behalf to breaches of the anti-corruption law.

Hylton, who is seeking to retain his seat for the People’s National Party (PNP) in the September 3 parliamentary election, insisted, too, that prosecutors had no basis to file criminal charges against him as he was in compliance with the law.

“The charges should never have been brought in the first place,” he said.

The long-time lawmaker was responding to a Sunday Gleaner exposé last week detailing, based on court records, the status of three criminal charges filed against him, two in 2011 and one in 2012.

The records show that on November 18, 2011, a conviction and sentence was recorded against Hylton in the then Kingston and St Andrew Resident Magistrate’s Court for two breaches of the since-repealed Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act before they were reversed by a judge.

On March 6, 2015, both charges were dismissed after prosecutors offered no evidence against Hylton, who, by then, was minister of industry, investment and commerce, The Sunday Gleaner reported, citing court records.

The third charge has been on hold since March 13, 2015 when prosecutors entered a nolle prosequi and signalled that it would recommence.

Hylton, who is an attorney-at-law, insisted that he was not aware of any other charge against him.

But seeking to explain the reversal of the conviction and sentence, the former government minister indicated that when the case was first placed before the court on November 18, 2011, he asked a junior colleague at the law firm he operated at the time to inform the judge that he was running late.

I NEVER SPOKE TO ANYONE

“I never instructed anybody, any lawyer to [enter a] plea on my behalf. I never spoke to anyone about pleading on my behalf,” he insisted.

However, on his arrival at court, Hylton said he was met by Tavares-Finson.

“Tony, just go and pay the $10,000 [fine imposed by the judge]. Everything is fine,” he claimed Tavares-Finson told him.

According to him, Tavares-Finson revealed, in response to his enquires, that “Everybody else pled guilty. I just do a guilty plea and they paid $10,000 as a fine.”

Hylton said he was infuriated and insisted on his innocence.

“I said, ‘Hell, no! I’m not paying any fine because I am not guilty of the charge’,” he said, pointing out that he considers Tavares-Finson a good friend who “thought he was being helpful”.

“I have never, in any sense, believed that Tom was being malicious.”

The former industry, investment and commerce minister said it was on this basis that the conviction and sentence recorded against him were reversed.

“The court now realised that it was misled in some form or fact.”

When contacted, Tavares-Finson told The Sunday Gleaner: “I have absolutely no recollection of that”.

Other parliamentarians in court that day on similar charges were the PNP’s Natalie Neita, Derrick Kellier, Noel Arscott and Colin Fagan, and the Jamaica Labour Party’s Tarn Peralto and Michael Stern.

Arscott, the outgoing Clarendon South West MP, was charged with six counts.

Court records show that guilty pleas were entered for Hylton, Arscott, Fagan, Peralto and Stern on one count of breaching the Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act. They were each sentenced to a fine of $10,000.

Neita and Kellier had their cases rescheduled, while Arscott had five counts withdrawn by prosecutors.

The charges against Hylton were based on accusations by the then Corruption Prevention Commission that he failed to provide statements for an overseas bank account held by his wife; and that he failed to disclose that he was the sole director in a private development company and did not provide financial statements for the entity when requested.

He disputed the accusation regarding his wife’s overseas account, insisting that the information was disclosed to the commission, but acknowledged that there were issues about how it should be presented.

“The Integrity Commission wanted me to have the [overseas] bank send the information directly to them, the same way in which a NCB (National Commercial Bank) or a Scotiabank in Jamaica would send the information directly to them,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

“I told them that was not possible because in the foreign institutions, such as in the [United] States, they will not release their customers’ information unless directed by a court order or my wife would have to fly to Washington, get the information sealed in some envelope and take it to them,” he explained.

According to him, the commission relented and the information was sent a day before the charges were filed in 2011.

While acknowledging the company was formed to “carry out an investment”, Hylton said that decision was “withdrawn”.

“That was the time of the financial crisis and the investors said this was not a good time to invest,” he said in reference to the meltdown of the financial sector in the 1990s.

According to him, this was explained in an addendum he attached to his statutory declaration “to say this company was not active because the decision to go forward with a development investment had been withdrawn”.

“I had no bank account to declare because it was never a trading company, so I don’t know what was required of me to declare.”

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com