Trials will continue -Judge rules enough evidence has been shown of crimes committed by former politicians – including taking bribes and defrauding the TCI and its people
By Gemma Handy
TRIALS of corruption-accused former premier Michael Misick and ex-ministers will continue on following a court ruling that prosecutors have shown sufficient evidence of their alleged misdeeds.
Defence attorneys for the five one-time politicians and four additional defendants had hoped to convince Supreme Court Judge Paul Harrison to throw the trials out claiming prosecutors had failed to substantiate their case.
But Judge Harrison ruled there was a "case to answer” for all 16 counts – which include receiving bribes from wealthy developers and defrauding the Islands of vast sums of money – citing various legal precedents for each.
All nine defendants were present in court for Monday’s (July 29) hearing, as they have been most days since the trials began three and half years ago.
Misick appeared a somewhat subdued version of the flamboyant ex-leader once nicknamed ‘Iron Mike’ on account of his tough, unyielding demeanour.
Also on trial are his former deputy premier Floyd Hall, Hall’s wife Lisa, ex-ministers McAllister Hanchell, Jeffrey Hall and Lillian Boyce, former Speaker of the House Clayton Greene, and attorneys Melbourne Wilson and Chalmers Misick.
The lengthy proceedings have to date ratcheted up costs to the TCI’s taxpayers of almost $100 million.
And with more than 200,000 pages of evidence and testimonies from 200-plus witnesses to plough through, the case is likely to drag on for some time more.
Defence lawyers will begin to present their side on September 9 after a six-week adjournment. Scheduled hearings are already pencilled in until 2020.
"Each defendant will now decide whether or not to give evidence and whether or not to call witnesses,” lead prosecutor Andrew Mitchell QC told the Weekly News.
"Once that process is concluded, the lawyers make final speeches and the judge then delivers final verdicts.”
The proceedings officially opened in December 2015 and were expected to last just six months.
They followed a scandal-plagued commission of inquiry initiated by the UK government in 2008 which brought to light a litany of allegedly crooked dealings in the TCI.
Much of it related to under-the-table transactions with foreign developers seeking to build resorts during a period of unprecedented inward investment in the run-up to the 2008 financial crash.
Swathes of Crown land were apparently sold to locals, who benefitted from special discounted rates, before being flipped and sold to investors at market price with defendants pocketing the difference.
Misick’s own colourful lifestyle and extravagant spending on everything from luxurious yacht charters to private jets and personal stylists have been the focus of much of the attention.
Seven of the defendants are implicated in an overarching conspiracy to receive bribes between 2003 and 2009.
The remaining 15 counts include various conspiracies to defraud the Government and the TCI of money by undervaluing Crown land and reducing stamp duty revenue.
Several counts relate to money laundering, which means disguising the origins of illegally obtained money and ‘cleaning’ it – typically by transferring it through foreign banks or legitimate businesses. Attorneys are said to have played facilitating roles in this.
Mitchell previously told the court the defendants had "undermined, ignored and usurped” their own laws and institutions to enrich themselves "beyond their wildest dreams”.
Other charges include defrauding the then ruling PNP party of cash in the form of huge political donations between 2002 and 2009 which ministers apparently spent on themselves.
The PNP party received some $13 million during that period – eight times more than the main Opposition.
Defence attorneys claim it was commonly accepted that sums donated to the party were spent at candidates’ discretion.
Misick himself has long maintained the trials are politically motivated by Britain due to his plans to lead the island chain to independence.
The commission of inquiry and subsequent political upheaval – which saw the UK temporarily reimpose direct rule over its territory – garnered international headlines a decade ago.
Many observers claimed the London-appointed Governor, the de facto head of state, should have intercepted suspected malfeasance.
An inside source said the UK was now anxious to see justice delivered and prove to the world that the rule of law exists in the TCI.
Premier Sharlene Cartwright Robinson has repeatedly demanded Britain share the trials’ onerous costs but the UK government has remained adamant that taxpayers will not bear the burden of what it views as the territory’s mistakes.