Help for Ffriend - Government assisting national basketballer incarcerated in Serbia
Leighton Levy, Gleaner Writer
The backing that Jamaican basketball player Kimani Ffriend was seeking from the Jamaican Government seems to be on its way.
Ffriend, 35, a member of the Jamaican national team in 2012 when the country historically qualified for the FIBA Championship of the Americas, has been on trial in Serbia since March 2013, in connection with the death of 30-year-old Nevena Dragutinovic, a senior account executive, on the morning of November 3, 2012.
She was hit by a car Ffriend was driving along the streets of Belgrade at about 4 a.m.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, A.J. Nicholson, has in the meantime rubbished claims made by the player that he was made to feel he did not have the backing of the Jamaican Government.
"Kimani Ffriend is being interviewed by the Honorary Consul, who has been helping him," the minister said yesterday.
The Gleaner has also obtained a copy of an email Ffriend received late last Friday from Deniese Sealey, Counsellor of the Jamaican Embassy in Berlin, indicating that the Government intended to act on his behalf.
"... The Government can express its concern in respect of a case involving a Jamaican national. This we have done in respect of your situation. A copy of the diplomatic note submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Serbia, will be shared, by the Honorary Consul, with your Lawyer," said the letter, in part, from Ms Sealey, dated August 8, 2014.
"Please note that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, to whom this Embassy reports, has been aware of your situation from the inception and has designated the accredited Mission, Berlin, to deal with the matter."
Ffriend said officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also got in touch with him several times yesterday.
He had told The Gleaner that Ms. Sealey had contacted him initially in May, but he had not heard from her since. The consul, he said, actually sat in on the court sessions.
Prosecutors contend that Ffriend was drunk, ran a traffic light and slammed into the Serbian woman, who was out with her sister and friends celebrating.
However, Ffriend's attorney, Tintor Jugoslav, contends that the Jamaican, whom he said was moderately intoxicated, even if he had been sober, could not have avoided hitting Dragutinovic, who had just alighted from a taxi cab that had stopped in the middle of the road.
Evidence was brought that the road was wet, the victim was drunk (her blood alcohol level reportedly well over 1.5) and that the statements given by her friends and twin sister were contradictory.
Expert witnesses also testified that because of the conditions - a poorly lit street; a thunderstorm had reportedly blown the lights out on the street and made the road surface wet and slippery - not only would it have been difficult to see, but it would have also been impossible for the Jamaican to avoid hitting the woman as she stepped out of the cab and into the path of the moving car.
Ffriend, who was considered a flight risk, was imprisoned for 10 months, after which he was released to house arrest as the trial progressed.
He told The Gleaner that during his trial he had been in touch with the Jamaican consulate in Germany that has been supportive, but he felt like not enough was being done, especially in light of the fact that the judge hearing his case displayed a clear bias, which prompted his attorney to call for her removal.