Sat | Dec 3, 2016

EDITORIAL - Why Noel Strachan has the gall

Published:Wednesday | January 21, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Noel Strachan may have been deliberate in his timing, or so he may believe, in crawling out of the woodwork and poking his head above the parapet. For, on the face of it, the six-year statute of limitations may have expired for people who believe they have been bilked out of their money to bring civil suits against Mr Strachan and his World Wise Partners organisation.

World Wise collapsed in 2008, owing an undetermined amount of money, but certainly a sum running into hundreds of millions of dollars, to hundreds of Jamaicans, some of whom complained to the police. They believed they were victims of a fraud perpetrated by Mr Strachan and his company.

In that regard, perchance Mr Strachan's timing was based on legal calculations, he may have got it wrong. There is no statute of limitations on criminal matters in Jamaica. So, Mr Strachan can still be charged with respect to any criminal offence which the police and the director of public prosecutions (DPP) believe that he and/or his company or agents committed.

Indeed, that is precisely what the police, just shy of four years ago, in February 2011, said they would do.

Speaking at a forum hosted by this newspaper, Colbert Edwards, the then head of the Fraud Squad, reported that they had reopened investigations in the fraud complaints against Mr Strachan and World Wise and that he was, or would seek assistance from the DPP in utilising the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty to have Mr Strachan extradited to Jamaica from the United States.

In the event that fraud charges couldn't hold - given the structure of the agreement between Mr Strachan and his investors - the police would contemplate charging Mr Strachan for operating an investment company without the relevant licence.

Since then, neither the police force nor the DPP has said anything, at least publicly, about the World Wise case. So, while this newspaper feels that Mr Strachan ought to be held to account for what we believe was an act of duping people to participate in a Ponzi scheme, there are legitimate reasons to ask: Why bother?

Justice At Snail's Pace

Take, for instance, the matter of Cash Plus Limited, one of the several suspected Ponzi schemes that crashed in 2008 when it came under robust scrutiny and challenge from the Financial Services Commission (FSC). Cash Plus owed investors an estimated J$10 billion. Its founder, Carlos Hill, and two of his lieutenants, brother Bertram Hill and the organisation's financial officer, Peter Wilson, were charged with obtaining money by false pretence, conspiracy to defraud, and fraudulent conversion.

After nearly seven years of stops and starts, the case against the Hills and Mr Wilson is yet to be tried. Just possibly, a trial date could be set in April.

The most notorious of the Ponzi scheme operators, David Smith, who carried down investors for nearly US$300 million, was never criminally charged in Jamaica, although it was a civil case by the FSC that caused him to relocate. Instead, he was charged, tried and jailed in the Turks & Caicos Islands before being extradited to the United States where he is serving time in prison.

It is an example of an approach to criminality that causes people to lose faith in Jamaica's law-enforcement and justice system, and people like David Smith and his cohorts to behave with impunity.