Damning testimony against former Jamaica minister in light bulbs scandal

(Jamaica Observer) A prosecution witness on Thursday gave damning evidence that former Junior Energy Minister Kern Spencer tried to retrieve several copies of multimillion-dollar transactions he conducted after being tipped off about his pending arrest for fraud.

Sacha Neil-Elliott, a customer service representative who had handled Spencer’s transactions at the Jamaica National Building Society’s (JNBS’) Santa Cruz branch, St Elizabeth, made the revelation during sworn evidence in the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate’s Court.

Under examination from Director of Public Prosecu-tions Paula Llewellyn, Neil-Elliot told the court that Spencer, during a phone call in November 2007, informed her that an associate at the Financial Investigations Department (FID) told him he was being investigated for fraud and that he had seen a report of all the transactions he had done at the bank and notes accompanying them.

However, she testified that Spencer asked her for copies of the transactions before he made the disclosure to her.

She said prior to the phone call, Spencer and his co-accused, Colleen Wright, conducted multimillion-dollar transactions at the institution that included the opening of two fixed deposit accounts in Spencer’s name, in which J$3.2 million and J$3 million in cash were deposited in both accounts, five days apart, in July 2007. She said the transactions also included a wire transfer of approximately US$64,500 (J$4.4m) to a Land Rover dealership in Florida.

Neil-Elliot also testified that when the accounts were being opened, Spencer had informed her that the funds were accessed from a National Commercial Bank loan and from proceeds from his birthday party.

Neil-Elliot also testified that during the telephone conversation with Spencer, he informed her that the FID officer had also told him about the information regarding the source of the funds, but he told her that he could not recall affixing his signature to any source of funds form as he would have told her that he had sourced the money from his mother’s business in Black River.

Neil-Elliott said the former junior minister then enquired about who prepared the reports at JNBS. She told him it was not her, and that the bank did not report to FID.

“It’s a good thing yuh seh that ‘cause if mi did know,” she recalled him saying.

“As a matter a fact, mi wan si all a di documents dem weh mi sign,” Neil-Elliot said Spencer then told her in an angry voice, which she said scared her and sent her scampering in her manager’s office.

The prosecution witness, who started her evidence-in-chief on Wednesday, had outlined a series of transactions she said she conducted for Spencer and Wright, her former schoolmate and Spencer’s personal assistant.

She testified that both accused visited the bank on July 30 and opened a fixed deposit account in Spencer’s name with J$700,000 cash, which he indicated was from an NCB loan. She said Wright later returned with J$2.325 million, which she deposited in the account, and five days later they returned with cash amounting to $3 million and opened a second fixed deposit account.

Spencer, she said, told her the purpose of the accounts was to secure a loan. She said on that day he also took out two loans for J$2.25 million each against the fixed deposit accounts.

Neil-Elliot further testified that Spencer returned to the bank on July 31 with his mother, Peggy Spencer-Ewen, to add her name to the two fixed deposit accounts and that Wright also requested that Spencer-Ewen’s name be added to a savings account she had at the bank.

The witness also testified that both accused returned to the bank on September 14 and that Spencer requested that she close both fixed deposit accounts, and used the funds to repay both loans that were secured against them.

She said after the transaction, J$1.6 million in total remained. A voucher was prepared in the amount and was given to Spencer, who handed it over to Wright.

The witness said Wright, who also had a fixed deposit account in her name with a little over J$4 million, also requested that the account be closed and the funds be used to settle a loan that she had for a little over J$3 million.

Neil-Elliot further testified that Wright then used the remaining J$990,000, along with the J$1.6 million, to purchase a US draft payable to Olint Corporation.

According to Neil-Elliot, she did not see or hear from the accused for the rest of 2007, until April 2008 when Spencer contacted her from an unknown number and told her that he still wanted copies of the transactions as he could not understand the information on the source of funds, which he claimed the FID had.

The witness’ damning testimony was unchallenged by defence attorneys KD Knight and Debra Martin, who both conducted very brief cross-examinations.

Spencer and Wright are on trial for their role in the distribution of millions of free energy-saving light bulbs, a process that ended up costing taxpayers millions of dollars. The bulbs were donated by the Cuban government.

 

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