Golding claims US evidence against Coke illegally obtained
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
PRIME MINISTER Bruce Golding has accused the United States (US) government of using illegally intercepted telephone conversations for the basis of drug and weapons trafficking charges against west Kingston strongman Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.
Golding, in a statement to Parliament yesterday and responding to a scathing report from the US Department of State a day earlier, declared the Jamaican Government would not extradite one of its citizens without being provided with a stronger case.
"I know that perhaps it is politically expedient to say it is Coke. Or it could have been Matthews Lane strongman Zekes (Donald Phipps)," Golding told the House of Representatives. "Or it could be any of these. I am not defending the wrongdoing of any person but, if I have to pay a political price for it, I am going to uphold a position that constitutional rights do not begin at Liguanea."
Liguanea is the base of the US Embassy in St Andrew.
On Monday, the annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released by the US Department of State, said the handling of the August request for Coke's extradition "marked a dramatic change in (the Jamaican Government's) previous cooperation on extradition".
The State Department said the delay in extraditing Coke, as well as a temporary suspension in the processing of all other pending requests, raised "serious questions" about the Jamaican Government's commitment to combating transnational crime.
However, Golding yesterday rejected the assertion, arguing his Government could not ignore breaches in the Coke case.
"The Interception of Communications Act makes strict provisions for the manner in which intercepted communications may be obtained and disclosed," the prime minister said. "The evidence supporting the extradition request in this particular case violated those provisions."
He added, "For intercepted communication to be admissible in any criminal proceedings, it must have been obtained, disclosed and used in accordance with these provisions. This was not done in this case. This was highly irregular."
Golding said that, under the circumstances, Attorney General and Justice Minister Dorothy Lightbourne had a duty to protect the constitutional rights of Coke and not extradite him.
"If the minister, having examined it, recognises that it is supported by evidence that was illegally obtained, disclosed or used, but still proceeds to sign it, she should immediately sign one other document - her resignation," Golding said.
The prime minister stressed that since his administration assumed office in September 2007 it has received 26 extradition requests from the US, 16 of which have been signed by the justice minister.
Responding to Golding's statement, Opposition members Peter Bunting and Dr Peter Phillips questioned why the attorney general would not simply sign the document and allow the courts to determine the merits of the Government's concerns.
Phillips said the structure of the extradition law requires that there be a procedural check by the minister with responsibility for justice, but matters regarding the quality of justice should be dealt with by the court, as well as the legality of evidence.
"There is a reserve power usually considered at the end, not at the beginning of the proceedings, to ensure that there is not the risk of prejudicing hearings held in the jurisdiction that is requesting the extradition of the person," Phillips said.
Golding responded that "it was not intended by this Parliament when the legislation was framed that the minister was to be some lubricated conduit through which extradition requests were to automatically pass".
"The minister has to satisfy herself, or himself, that the processes that were used in submitting the request are in conformity with Jamaican law. When the matter goes before the court, the court has the responsibility to determine whether a
case has been made out sufficient to ground the extradition of the subject."
Coke, who is the reputed leader of Tivoli Gardens, a section of West Kingston represented in Parliament by Golding, has been indicted by a grand jury in the United States.
Yesterday, the prime minister noted that the identity of the co-conspirators named in the indictment are unknown. He said statements supporting an extradition request should not be veiled.
He also suggested that the wiretapping of Coke's telephone conversations was not done by the United States, but was instead transported to that jurisdiction to be used against him.