FORMER State Minister for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez.
By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
STATE Legal Affairs Minister Damian Gomez yesterday said the Department of Public Prosecutions is working diligently to prosecute a Bahamian official who allegedly accepted $325,000 in bribes to influence Bahamas Electricity Corporation contracts to a French company between 1999 and 2003.
He said while the government has been heavily criticised for being slow to act on prosecution, this is not the case. Mr Gomez told The Tribune that the process is not so simple as to just compel the alleged bribe taker to appear before a magistrate and have the person charged.
Mr Gomez said officials know who the alleged bribe taker is, however he was not at liberty to say because officials at the Department of Public Prosecutions are still gathering vital evidence to strengthen the Crown’s case.
In addition, the Central and South Eleuthera MP said that a large portion of the evidence remains in the United States.
American officials are expected to soon have these key pieces of information sent to Nassau, he said. However, Mr Gomez could not reveal when this will happen.
“They are quite aware of who the person is although I am not at liberty to say,” Mr Gomez said, responding to questions from The Tribune. “However, in a short period of time, once the evidence comes from the United States, we will be in a better position to move forward.
“To my knowledge, the director of prosecutions is diligently doing what is required to put the office in the position to prosecute but a lot of the evidence is abroad. So it’s not as simple as just bringing the person before the Magistrate’s Court and having them charged.
“This is a serious matter and we are doing all that is necessary to ensure that everything is done and handled properly,” he added.
Last December, Tribune Business exclusively revealed that French energy company Alstom (formerly ABB) allegedly paid more than $300,000 to a government official to secure the purchase of a slow diesel generator for the electricity company nearly 15 years ago.
The bribery claims were unearthed in a $722m plea agreement between Alstom and the United States Justice Department on the matter, which is related to a widespread scheme involving tens of millions of dollars in bribes in countries around the world, including Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Bahamas.
It was revealed that the French company allegedly hid payments to Bahamian officials, routing them through an American consultant who was a “close personal friend” of one person able to “influence” the awarding of BEC contracts.
However, none of those involved in the scheme is named in court documents.
Following the revelation, former Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson, who at the time had the electricity corporation in his portfolio, expressed “difficulty” with the situation.
Mr Watson has maintained that he was unaware of any controversy surrounding the purchase of the generator, or the events that allegedly took place between 1999 and 2001, while the FNM was in office.
In June, Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson said the investigation had not yet been completed, adding that local police were working with legal officials on the case. She said that despite making significant progress, more work was needed.
The FNM has been adamant over the last few months that Mrs Maynard-Gibson should not linger in moving forward with criminal charges.
Former BEC Chairman J Barrie Farrington has since called for “the chips to fall where they may” in any investigation into the claims.
Mr Farrington, who held the chairmanship at the time the alleged bribes were paid, pledged that he would not relent in seeking to unmask the alleged bribe taker, and urged the government to appoint a “non-partisan commission” to investigate the bribery claim.