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Zeeks' money muddle - Did the PNP bail out its former strongman?

Published:Sunday | February 24, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Donald 'Zeeks' Phipps
Attorney General Patrick Atkinson

Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer

Under a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration, convicted killer Donald 'Zeeks' Phipps dropped his attempt to get back approximately $24 million which the police had seized at his house after the State challenged his claim.

Under a People's National Party (PNP) administration, Zeeks renewed his application for the refund of the money and the State dropped its challenge.

Within six weeks after the application was renewed, the State agreed to refund the money, and the former strongman of one of the few PNP enclaves in the JLP garrison of West Kingston was on his way back to being a multimillionaire even as he serves life in prison.

Attorney General Patrick Atkinson says there was no legal basis for the State to hang on to the money. Persons in legal and security circles say even if the money were returned, lawyers representing Zeeks should have been asked to prove how he came by it.

years ago when prosecutors balked at returning approximately $24 million
seized at the upper St Andrew home of convicted murderer Donald 'Zeeks'
Phipps and asked him to prove how he earned the money, the former
Matthews Lane strongman discontinued his claim to the cash, revealed
court documents reviewed by The Sunday

The documents show that Phipps
renewed his claim to the money last June, six months after the political
party he supported, the People's National Party (PNP), was voted back
into power.

Lawyers representing Phipps filed a civil
suit in the Supreme Court against the Attorney General's Department
(AGD) seeking the return of the money, and in six weeks, a consent order
was made for the cash to be returned to him.

monies - J$8.35m; US$152,185; £19,020; and CDN$3,980 - which were taken
from his Highland Close home in May 2005, was returned to Phipps in
three payments last year.

Having withdrawn his claim
in 2008, Phipps claimed, in his 2012 affidavit, that he believed the
retention of the money by the State was unlawful.

do verily believe that the continued retention of the property which was
found in my house, to which I have proprietorial and possessory
entitlement, is in breach of my right to property under Section 13 of
the Constitution," he argued in paragraph seven of the


However, the court documents showed that unlike
prosecutors in 2008, who demanded that Phipps prove how he earned the
cash, the AGD raised minimal challenge to Phipps'

"It is admitted that the retention of the money
is unlawful," the AGD wrote in paragraph six of its defence limited to

Attorney General Patrick Atkinson defended
the AGD's action, saying based on the instructions the department
received, there was no legal basis that prevented Phipps from getting
his money back.

"We checked around … with the FID
(Financial Investigation Division), everybody, and there was no reason
for it being held," argued Atkinson.

"We don't just
take people's money without a legal basis," he

The cash was seized during a police-military
operation in 2005.

Phipps and his girlfriend, Yvonne
Salisman, were jointly charged with unlawful possession of property, but
the charges were dropped in October 2006 when the Office of the
Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) entered a nolle

A senior law-enforcement official
with knowledge of the case said this led Phipps, through his attorneys,
to file an application in the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate's Court
seeking to have the money returned to him

However, the official said prosecutors,
armed with a criminal profile of Phipps that was developed by the FID,
opposed the move and sought to have the money forfeited to the State "on
the basis that there was no evidence it was the lawful property of Mr

"The resident magistrate … even adjourned the
matter several times to give them (Phipps and his legal team) time to
put evidence before her showing how he earned the money," the official

Head of the FID, Justin Felice, would not
comment on the case. However, he confirmed that as part of its mandate,
the agency does create "financial profiles of specific targets and
individuals" who are under suspicion.

"We want to see
if money laundering or any other financial crimes are being committed
because my job is to take the profit out of crime," Felice


law-enforcement official said in October 2008, one of Phipps' attorney
informed the magistrate that they were withdrawing their application to
have the cash returned.

According to the official, all
this information was contained in a file turned over to the AGD by the
ODPP when Phipps filed his suit last year.

records show that the AGD agreed to a consent judgement in Phipps' suit,
even while it acknowledged that the ODPP had opposed his first
application in 2008.

"The prosecution (in the unlawful
possession case that was filed against Phipps) applied to detain the
monies under Section 44 of the Constabulary Force Act," read a section
of the affidavit filed by the AGD in its defence that was limited to the
award of damages.

But while acknowledging
prosecutors' concerns, Atkinson pointed out that the money was not the
subject of a criminal case, forfeiture proceedings or any other case
that is pending.

As a result, Atkinson insisted that
"there was no legal basis for it to remain in the custody of the