ANTIGUA: High Court upholds no case submission against former government ministers

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ST. JOHN’S, Antigua – The High Court Tuesday upheld no-case submissions filed by the attorneys of three former government ministers who had been accused of corruption, embezzlement, and conversion of three buses that had been donated to the government by South Korea in 2008.

Justice Colin Williams upheld the submissions filed by the attorneys for former education minister Dr. Jacqui Quinn-Leandro, former finance minister and now the leader of the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), Harold Lovell, and former deputy prime minister, Wilmoth Daniel.

They had been accused of corruption, conversion, and embezzlement involving the acquisition of three 2008 Daewoo buses estimated at EC$600,000 (One EC dollar=US 0.37 cents) allegedly donated to the government here by the South Korean government.

The trio, who all served in the administration of former prime minister Baldwin Spencer, was charged in October 2019, two years after Magistrate Conliffe Clarke dismissed the case. They had all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The prosecution had alleged that while they were in public office, the trio converted the buses for their personal use and registered them at the Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board in their names.

During the trial, Spencer told the court that the three buses “were not considered property of the government of Antigua and Barbuda directly” and that “it was not a situation where the request for this endeavor was to be a government to government.

“That was not the arrangement,” the 73-year-old former prime minister said.

In his more than two hour ruling, Justice Williams said that the defendants were not employed in the public service, dismissing the larceny charges, while on the orders of conversion, ruled that the prosecution failed to prove that the government-owned the buses and were relying on inferences and not a form of fact.

The judge ruled that the prosecution did not offer enough evidence of how the then ministers misused the buses.

Lovell, 66, who served as finance minister in the spencer administration, told reporters following the ruling that while he is pleased the trio had been vindicated and exonerated, “this is the second time that this (verdict0 has happened.

“You will recall in 2017; the Magistrate Court ruled that there was no case to answer and now again, a High Court judge has ruled there is no case to answer. So we have been completely exonerated.

“This was an attempt to destroy our reputation. This made it very difficult for all of us, we lost opportunities, and we were always under the cloud”.

Lovell, who is expected to lead the UPP into the next general election, praised the team of lawyers that included Queen Counsels, Anesta Weekes, former attorney general Justin Simon and Dane Hamilton.

“In the end, this is a victory for the people of Antigua and Barbuda because it is a victory against victimization; it is a victory against spite and malicious prosecution,” he said.

Quinn-Leandro told reporters she intends to file a lawsuit for malicious prosecution. She was convinced that the matter was politically motivated and that Daniel and herself were merely collateral damage since the intention was to get at Lovell.

“That is a quotation from somebody out of cabinet who said that to me…they want to destroy Mr. Lovell,” she said, adding that the court case is “a direct political attack by the Gaston Browne administration.

‘It is not going to end like that because I am going to file a lawsuit against all the people, all the principals involved in this process who have dragged this thing on for seven years,” she said, adding, just like Lovell, she had been denied opportunities to earn a living.

Daniel also said he had suffered as a result of the ongoing court case but was always confident that he and the others would have been vindicated.

“Even though the judge was reading so long, I still never had any doubt that we would have been victorious. God has helped us, and I hope we learn from this and live up to the trust that he has put in us,” Daniel added.

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