House Speaker accused of knowingly lying to IC
A $6-million Mercedes-Benz GLA250 that was omitted from House Speaker Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert’s statutory declarations for seven years, but the acquisition of which was flagged by the Integrity Commission (IC) as possibly involving fraud, has landed the legislator in hot water.
Director of corruption prosecution at the country’s foremost anti-corruption agency Keisha Prince-Kameka has ruled that Dalrymple-Philibert be charged with four counts of breaching Section 15(1)(b) of the Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act, 1973 for making a false statement in a statutory declaration covering the period 2015 to 2017.
Prince-Kameka also determined that Dalrymple-Philibert should be charged with four counts of breaches in relation to Section 43(2)(a) of the Integrity Commission Act, 2017 for making a false statement in a statutory declaration covering the period 2018 to 2020.
The ruling comes four months after The Gleaner reported that People’s National Party Councillor Lambert Weir was charged with similar breaches.
The IC, in a 41-page report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, said it opened an investigation after a referral from its Director of Complaints Craig Beresford raised concerns that Dalrymple-Philibert may have broken several laws by virtue of failing to disclose her ownership of the vehicle.
It added that its director of investigation, Kevon Stephenson, expanded the scope of the probe to include the circumstances surrounding the use of a 20 per cent duty concession granted to Dalrymple-Philibert to acquire the vehicle to be used by her in connection with her public duties.
REGISTERED IN SPEAKER’S NAME
In a March 2022 letter, Dalrymple-Philibert denied owning the vehicle but the commission said evidence obtained from Tax Administration Jamaica, the Ministry of Finance, Jamaica Customs, Sagicor Jamaica Limited, and two redacted parties confirmed that the vehicle was acquired and registered in the Speaker’s name from 2015 until its divestment in May 2022.
She subsequently told Stephenson in a February 2023 interview that she recalled receiving a concession for a vehicle which her sister drove until she sold it.
“I never drove it and I never had possession. I also requested from Parliament a list of my concessions for which they replied with a document showing that I received concessions for three vehicles. The documents detailed the Benz vehicle and so I must declare it,” Dalrymple-Philibert is quoted in the report as saying.
A 20 per cent duty concession is a benefit provided to parliamentarians, certain categories of government employees and/or public officials/servants.
Within three years of purchase, the vehicle must be used primarily by the travelling officer and cannot be used for commercial purposes.
The commission said evidence obtained from Parliament and the finance ministry showed that Dalrymple-Philibert applied for and received the concession in 2015 to purchase the vehicle.
She said that the purchasing of the vehicle was mostly done through her husband and that there was a small loan her sister received.
Stephenson subsequently presented documents which showed that Dalrymple-Philibert stood as guarantor for a loan received through a commercial bank to purchase the vehicle by her sister’s spouse, Lincoln Eatmon.
The report said enquiries by Stephenson revealed that an initial deposit of $200,000 was made by Dalrymple-Philibert’s brother-in-law. Further, he obtained a loan of $5.8 million through a third party towards the acquisition of the vehicle through a third party.
Further enquiries by Stephenson revealed that the full duty list price for the vehicle was $8.1 million and that the 20 per cent concession duty list price was $6,580,000 and the 20 per cent concession duty special price was $6 million.
He said that the vehicle was acquired at a cost of $6 million.
Eatmon told the director of investigations that the vehicle was kept in Kingston and used by him, his son and son’s mother, Agneta Veira. He said that Dalrymple-Philibert also used the vehicle.
He said that in early 2016, he discussed the purchase and made an arrangement with the bank for a loan of $5 million for the purchase.
Eatmon said that he applied for the loan and it was guaranteed by Dalrymple-Philibert and she put up the car as security.
However, Dalrymple-Philibert, in her interview, denied ever using the vehicle.
Veira, Dalrymple-Philibert’s sister, countered that claim, noting in her interview with Stephenson that the vehicle was in the control and possession of House speaker and that she (Veira) used it when she needed a motor vehicle or was doing business on behalf of her sister.
Stephenson said that the ownership of the vehicle was transferred two months after Dalrymple-Phillibert denied being the owner.
Stephenson said further evidence showed that from 2016 to the time of Dalrymple-Philibert appointment as House Speaker in 2020, motor vehicle allowances were paid to her.
However, he said that the referenced allowances were not paid in accordance with relevant law/guidance and/or procedures.
In November 2020, she was assigned a 2014 Mitsubishi Pajero, registered to the Houses of Parliament.
On November 3, 2020, Dalrymple-Philibert wrote to the then Clerk to the Houses, indicating that she was applying for a 20 per cent duty concession on a 2021 Toyota Hilux from Toyota Jamaica Limited.
Stephenson concluded that Dalrymple-Philibert was the legal owner of the vehicle, and having omitted to include it in her declarations, caused them to be inaccurate and incomplete.
He further concluded that there was sufficient basis to infer that the omission amounts to the offence of knowingly making a false statement to the commission.
With regards to the concession, both terms and conditions, including Section 36 of the Customs Act were breached.
The director of investigations said any other person who assisted Dalrymple-Philibert in the foregoing would be equally liable.
Stephenson said that motor vehicle allowances paid in spite of the breaches identified were “irregular”.
He concluded that in failing to identify the clear breaches identified, the accountable officer and/or accounting officer at the Houses of Parliament were “negligent in their processing of the payments made to Dalrymple-Philibert”.
Stephenson said the failure on the part of the accountable officer in the foregoing regard constitutes a breach of Circular 13 and their duty under the Financial Audit and Administration Act.