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CMU roadblock - University mounts challenge to FID court orders in Ruel Reid probe

Published:Wednesday | June 12, 2019 | 12:20 AM

Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) has hired a top attorney to challenge court orders obtained by the Financial Investigations Division (FID) as part of a corruption probe around discarded Education Minister Ruel Reid.

However, law-enforcement sources yesterday dismissed the legal challenge as one of several strategies being used by officials at CMU to frustrate the investigation, which is close to completion, The Gleaner has learnt.

Earlier this year, lawyers for the FID quietly went to court and obtained several orders compelling CMU and some of its senior executives, among others, to turn over critical documents to investigators.

But since then, sources claimed, CMU officials have used threats and intimidation to discourage several persons from talking to investigators.

“There were three persons, not suspects, that investigators wanted witness statements from, and CMU hired three high-powered attorneys for them to frustrate the process,” one source claimed.

“Now, CMU has gone to court to challenge the court orders obtained by FID. It’s very frustrating because you have one government entity seeking to block another government agency from getting documents needed for a critical investigation,” the source continued.

One of the attorneys, Hugh Wildman, confirmed that he was hired by CMU to represent the institution and a senior employee, but dismissed as “rubbish” claims that the legal challenge was part of any attempt to thwart investigators.

Further, Wildman described the court orders obtained by the FID as “defective” and confirmed that he will be going to the Constitutional Court to have them tossed. The issue for Wildman is how the FID went about getting the orders.

According to him, the agency did not comply with the requirements outlined in the FID Act to obtain court orders. Worse yet, he said that when investigators served the orders on the university and senior executives, there was nothing to indicate the basis on which they were obtained.

“Can you imagine a man goes and gets an ex parte order against you and he has not even provided the evidence to you of the basis on which he gets the order and talks about confidentiality?” he questioned.

“When they (FID) were asked for the affidavit, they refused. It is a well-established breach of the law … . You must provide all the documents which you used to get the orders,” he insisted.

Wildman said the fact that they are two state entities is irrelevant.

“The law is clear and you have to follow the law. That’s rubbish!” he argued.

Wildman filed documents in the Supreme Court yesterday and notified the FID of the legal challenge. The case is set to be heard on June 24.

The attorney also plans to ask a judge to grant an injunction staying the orders obtained by the FID.

Reid, an educator and former senator, was asked by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to tender his resignation as education minister on March 20 amid swirling allegations of impropriety at several agencies under his portfolio, including CMU, the HEART Trust/NTA, and the National Education Trust.

Among the issues under the microscope, insiders indicated at the time, is a three-year contract valued at $5.1 million per annum which the CMU gave Othneil Lawrence, former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) member of parliament for North West St Ann, to serve as an adviser to the east Kingston-based institution.

The contract was signed on April 1 last year.

Nearly three months later, on June 24, the JLP announced that Reid was appointed to replace Lawrence as the constituency caretaker.