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‘Clear picture of what happened’ - Investigators launch sweeping probe of agencies under Reid

Published:Thursday | March 21, 2019 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter

Police and financial investigators have in their possession documentary evidence detailing alleged improprieties committed by sacked Education Minister and Senator Ruel Reid, law-enforcement sources have revealed.

“We have collected several statements, and we have a clear picture of what happened, but we want to build a solid case,” a police source told The Gleaner.

The disclosure came yesterday afternoon, hours after Reid, an educator, tendered his resignation to Prime Minister Andrew Holness amid swirling allegations of corruption involving entities that fall under the Ministry of Education.

Following Reid’s sudden resignation, confirmation came that the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime (C-TOC) division and the Financial Investigation Division (FID) had commenced a wide-ranging probe into the allegations. The Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), the National Education Trust, and the HEART Trust, were some of the entities identified.

Robin Sykes, chief technical director of the FID, said he had no comment when contacted by The Gleaner late yesterday.

Among the issues under the microscope, government insiders say, is a $5.5-million contract reportedly signed by former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament for North West St Ann, Othneil Lawrence, to serve as an “adviser” to Dr Fritz Pinnock, president of the CMU, which falls under the education ministry.

Further, law-enforcement sources say that investigators have taken interest in the case of a woman who was apprehended at a financial institution in Liguanea, St Andrew, on March 8 carrying out a number of transactions using different bank cards. She has been formally charged by investigators at C-TOC and is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow, said police sources.

Lawrence initially told The Gleaner he could not respond to questions about whether he had signed a contract to be an adviser to Pinnock.

“At this point in time, I’m distancing myself from all that is happening. When the time is right, whatever is to be said will be said. But at this point in time, I have nothing to say,” he said.

Later in the interview, he denied being an adviser to Pinnock or the CMU.

“I have never been an adviser to Dr Pinnock personally, so I don’t know where all of this is coming from,” the former lawmaker insisted.

“I am trying to get in touch with them to find out where all of this is coming from, but I’m not getting through to them,” he added.

However, documents obtained by The Gleaner have revealed that the CMU and one ‘Othneil Damion St Elmo Lawrence’ signed an “agreement for services” as an adviser, which took effect on April 1, 2018.

The documents include two pay advice slips generated by the CMU for the same ‘Othneil Lawrence’, indicating that he received $400,000 in net pay for September and November 2018.

“The adviser is not CMU’s agent or representatives and has no authority to commit CMU to any agreements or other obligations,” Clause 14 of the agreement read.

Pinnock was overseas on official business yesterday, a CMU representative told The Gleaner. Attempts to reach his cell phone were unsuccessful.

On June 24 last year, nearly two months after the agreement was signed, Reid was confirmed by the JLP’s central executive committee as constituency caretaker for North West St Ann, replacing Lawrence.

Lawrence insisted that he walked away from representational politics “because the time was right for me to walk away”.