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Kern walks - Freed of Cuban light bulb corruption charges

Published:Tuesday | March 25, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Former junior energy minister Kern Spencer (second left) and his co-accused, Colleen Wright (second right), are greeted by Spencer's mother, Peggy Spencer-Ewen (right), and other supporters outside the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate's Court after they were freed yesterday. - Rudolph Brown/Photographer
Defence lawyers in the Cuban light bulb trial, K.D. Knight and Deborah Martin, speak with members of the media outside the court.
Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn addresses the media after Spencer was freed.

Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer

For nearly six years, allegations of corruption swirled around him, but yesterday, Kern Spencer, the former junior energy minister, walked out of the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate's Court a free man.

Senior Resident Magistrate Judith Pusey dismissed all charges against Spencer and his former personal assistant, Colleen Wright, declaring that "having examined the evidence in this matter and how the matter was handled ... it is my considered opinion that these accused should not be called upon to state their defence."

The two had been on trial since 2009 for money laundering and illicit enrichment arising from the implementation of the Cuban light bulb programme.

While prosecutors and defence attorneys sparred over the evidence elicited during the near-five-year trial, the former North East St Elizabeth member of parliament, flanked by jubilant supporters, emerged from the courtroom and proclaimed his innocence.

"I am a decent and honest, law-abiding person who would never do several of the things that I was accused of," Spencer told journalists.

The former legislator said: "It was very hurtful at times to have sat and listened to some of the things that were said and by people who should have known better."

Spencer said he was "somewhat bitter" that, at the prime of his life when he should be "moving forward, six years were taken from my life".

Lead prosecutor Paula Llewellyn made it clear she respected the ruling of the magistrate, but could not hide her disappointment.

Llewellyn, who is the director of public prosecutions (DPP), asserted that there was an "abundance of evidence" to support the charges against Spencer and Wright and that if prosecutors had the right to an appeal, she would have exercised that option.

'The proper outcome'

However, defence attorneys K.D. Knight and Deborah Martin fired back, saying the evidence did not support the charges against their clients and that they were confident that "this was the proper outcome".

"I go a step further. No reasonable tribunal would consider convicting on the evidence adduced," Knight said.

"A part of the public may very well feel that, 'Boy, they get away.' The fact is, if the public knew all that transpired in the court, the public could quite possibly be upset that this matter occupied so much judicial time and that this matter had so affected the lives of two citizens," he added.

Spencer said his first priority was to spend some time with his family, pointing out that the trial had taken a toll on them.

"My kids [two sons in high school] have been totally embarrassed in school ... . On several occasions, they have been ridiculed, called names and have had to be counselled," he revealed.

Spencer, who was asked to recuse himself from all the positions he held in the People's National Party (PNP), said it was too early to discuss his political future.

PNP Deputy General Secretary Julian Robinson told The Gleaner it was premature to say how the organisation would treat with any interest from Spencer.

Last night, Clive Mullings, who as energy minister initiated the probe into Spencer's handling of the light bulb programme, said he respected Pusey's decision and would have no comment on the outcome.

"My response would be the same if the ruling of the court were otherwise," said Mullings.