FOREIGN Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell, alarmed by Canada’s recent inclusion of a warning in its travel advisory of the dangers of investing in the Bahamas, has pledged that he and the government will address the problem. He said the Canadian warning did “not truly represent the picture in the Bahamas.” He pointed out that Canada had judicial disputes that were “equally as tortuous.”
The Tribune reported that both the government and the private sector were concerned that the “country is being characterised as a risky place to do business.”
This investment advisory is the result of an unresolved dispute over the US$40 million Oceania Heights real estate development in Exuma in which Canadian developers are involved.
This is not the first time that the integrity of the Bahamas, its lawyers and the way of doing business has been dragged across the face of the world by the Internet, Facebook and Twitter.
We recall the case of Harald Fuhrmann, stung by a land deal in the Bahamas and disillusioned by his lawyer, who took his case to the international arena in 2004. He launched 60 websites attacking the Bahamas for alleged “legal corruption, widespread criminality, anti-foreign attitudes and misleading advertising.” Fuhrmann, who had lived in the Bahamas for about 30 years, had quietly waged a 10-year battle over a property deal gone sour, when in 2004 he decided to go public. His main thrust was warning foreign home owners of the dangers of real estate purchases in the Bahamas. He planned to drive a vehicle from north to south of the United States. The bus was to be covered with messages warning of what he called the Bahamas’ “incompetent and corrupt lawyers who will be the ruination” of this country and a “disincentive for foreign investors to come here.”
He went so far as to lobby top officials in Brussels to try to stop all hurricane aid to the Bahamas, claiming that with a $16,000 per capita income, Bahamians needed no help.
By 2008 Fuhrmann’s campaign was still going strong. It had become so embarrassing that a leading lawyer with an impeccable record offered to go over his case with him to determine whether in fact he had been wronged. The Tribune sent the message to Fuhrmann, but suddenly everything went silent. We do not know if the relentless campaign had exhausted him or whether the Grim Reaper had come to take him to greener pastures.
However, while it lasted it was a serious embarrassment, and obviously did a great deal of damage to this country.
We think that Mr Mitchell has to do more than try to pour oil over trouble waters in the Canadian case. In our opinion our whole justice system has to be brought under scrutiny and major decisions have to be made.
One has only to study the Weissfisch vs Weisfisch case, involving two wealthy Israeli brothers to know that something is terribly wrong somewhere. In a period of about six years four judges have removed themselves from the case, either by resigning from the bench, or being recused by a court decision or recusing themselves. It appears that only one judge remains who can hear the case to its final conclusion. This case shows that much is wrong, and the Internet has already started sending out its messages: Justice cannot be found in the Bahamas.
However, the one that we predict is going to bring this country much international embarrassment, is the latest 9-3 not guilty verdict in the murder of banker Hywel Jones.
Already we are starting to get reports of jury tampering. What is being said is so alarming that we think the matter demands serious and immediate investigation.
Apparently, before counsel had addressed the court and the judge had summed up, it is claimed that the accused let it be known that he was going to be acquitted. Of course, what is alleged to have gone on in the jury room is even greater cause for concern.
Two witnesses in a police identification parade identified a man in No. 4 slot as the man they saw near the scene just before the fatal shots were fire. One witness, who looked through the window at a fleeing man thought that No. 4 had all the physical characteristics of the person he saw leaving the scene on a motorcycle. However, the other witness, who had for almost two hours watched the suspect, saw him suddenly jump over the balustrade as Jones’ car pulled into the parking lot, pointed to No. 4 in the line up. That’s the man, he was alleged to have said. He was attracted to the man who was sitting idly on the balustrade because he was over dressed for such a hot day with a hat on his head and nervously smoking one cigarette after another.
The person, from a construction site, who was the one who had watched the accused for two hours, took the police, as soon as they arrived on the scene, to the spot where he had seen the man jump over the balustrade as Jones’ car pulled up, and gun shots followed.
The police dusted the balustrade and found the left palm print of the accused. This was secured. But a cautious police officer, obviously wise to the evil ways of the world, took the extra precaution of sawing the whole balustrade off and preserving it — palm print and all —so that no wily lawyer could suggest that the print had been planted. The large piece of evidence was later heaved into the court room as an exhibit.
Despite such evidence, the jury returned a 9-3 not guilty verdict. The Internet is now transmitting to the world details that we cannot publish.
But we warn that the Hywel Jones case is far from dead. We suggest that the police make the first move by investigating what took place in that jury room. At least those looking in from the outside will appreciate that Bahamians take their justice seriously.
As a result of this and several other cases that we have heard about, we agree with former Chief Justice Burton Hall that trial by jury in serious cases should be abolished.
More on this tomorrow.