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Tainted gifts and political donations

Published:Friday | May 11, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Peter Espeut

In my column of August 18, 2011, I wrote: "How is it that David Smith could be brought to trial, convicted and sentenced in a foreign jurisdiction, and we have not been able to do the same here? The judicial system in the United States of America has moved to seize the assets of David Smith and Olint to be able to offer some compensation to their citizens.

"It is unlikely that Jamaican Olint victims will get any share of the assets seized by the US judicial system, despite the fact that alarm bells went off here years before the US judicial system took up the case.

"We must be forgiven if it crosses our minds that the reason why the bosses of Olint and Cash Plus and the other Ponzi schemes have not been brought to justice in Jamaica is because they have made sizeable donations to local political parties.

" ... If only Jamaican political parties were required by law to declare the sources and amounts of the donations they receive! We are ending the first half-century of our political Independence with much evidence of connections between politics and criminality."

On September 23, 2010, David Smith was sentenced to six and half years in jail in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) after pleading guilty to two counts of conspiracy to defraud and two counts of conspiracy to launder money. On August 11, 2011, Smith was sentenced to 30 years ina US prison after being found guilty on 23 counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and money laundering. Despite defrauding thousands of Jamaicans of billions of dollars, Smith is yet to be charged with any crime in Jamaica. Why? We may now have some idea.

Seven-figure donations

In court documents recently released in the TCI, it is claimed that both PNP and JLP received seven-figure US$ donations from David Smith prior to the 2007 general election, and individuals from both sides received smaller amounts; since these are 'tainted gifts', the TCI Supreme Court is seeking the cooperation of Jamaican authorities to ensure that they are returned.

What did Olint hope to gain from either a PNP or JLP victory in 2007? The chance to reopen shop here was next to zero.Is there some other use that this influence would have been put to? Does it have anything to do with the fact that, despite most of the victims being Jamaican, the local authorities have not yet had the gumption to bring criminal charges against Olint and its principals?

TCI is still a colony of the United Kingdom, and was formerly a dependency of Jamaica. Is it not a shame that these British colonials seem to have a more effective justice system than a country in its 50th year of Independence from Britain?

The response to the TCI court documents has been predictable. The PNP is in total denial. Chairman Robert Pickersgill says the party "has no record" of having received a gift from former Olint boss David Smith. This is more a statement about the party's record-keeping than a denial about receiving anything.

TOO-Specific denial

Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson made a very specific denial of ever soliciting or receiving US$1 million. He states, "What I can assert is that no money came into any account owned or controlled by me, nor was there any cheque signed by me, nor did any other financial transaction take place which required or obtained my sanctions." I believe him.

But the denial is too carefully worded and too specific. Did he receive cash?His denial does not cover that.Or was the donation sent to an account controlled by another party functionary? A denial that 'no one in the PNP has ever received a donation of these proportions from David Smith of Olint' would make me much more comfortable.

The JLP, on the other hand, admits receiving donations in 2007, but claims it was unaware that Olint was a tainted entity, despite the fact that the Olint offices were raided in 2006 by the Financial Services Commission. Immediately afterwards, Olint and David Smith moved to the TCI. No one can credibly claim ignorance that OLINT was under suspicion after these events.

Now we know why neither the JLP nor the PNP wants the amounts and sources of political contributions to be publicly disclosed. Legislation to regulate political campaign financing is clearly overdue, but I am convinced that the recommendations of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica do not go far enough. Would they have prevented these tainted gifts? Or just capped the amount!

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.