LAWYERS for former Turks and Caicos Islands Premier Michael Misick will formally file for a mistrial in his high profile corruption case in Providenciales today, the Turks and Caicos Sun has reported.
When the case resumed yesterday, Justice Paul Harrison granted Misick’s lawyer Ralph Thorne, QC, an overnight adjournment so that his legal submissions could be made in writing and shared with lead prosecutor Andrew Mitchell, QC, and other defence lawyers who are expected to join in the application for mistrial.
The mistrial application stems from a widely publicised press release issued on behalf of Butch Stewart, the owner and chairman of Sandals and Beaches hotel chains over the weekend. The press statement made specific reference to Mr Mitchell’s opening statement in which he suggested that a $1.6m payment from Sandals Resorts International to the former premier was an alleged act of bribery.
Mr Thorne said his immediate concern is that the Sandals press statement is “so highly prejudicial to his client’s rights and to his presumption of innocence, that it defeats his opportunity for a fair trial”.
He added: “It is my view that the prosecution’s daily publication of its highly-charged opening statement and this statement have had the cumulative effect of scandalising my client, portraying him contemptuously and ultimately depriving him of the right to a fair trial that is guaranteed by the Constitution and by the Human Rights conventions.”
Since the trial started on January 18, some defence lawyers have expressed concern about the daily publication of segments of Mitchell’s opening statement on a dedicated website operated by the Providenciales-based and Helen Garlick-led Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT). It has been suggested by lawyers that the daily postings do not reflect the many objections that have been made by defence lawyers and that what are only prosecution allegations at this stage, run the risk of influencing the minds of potential witnesses.
Yesterday, defence lawyers met behind closed doors for 30 minutes before returning to the court when Mr Thorne addressed the judge. “These circumstances are grave and weighty in terms of the fairness of the trial,” Mr Thorne told Judge Harrison.
Mr Stewart said in the press release that the $1.6m payment first came to light in the course of investigation by the US Department of Justice. This, he added, triggered a series of internal investigations by Sandals to determine the source of the payment and the responsible parties.
“The results of the investigation and the forensic audit revealed that some US$1,650,000 had been paid to Prestigious Properties Limited, a real estate company in which Michael Misick, Phillip Misick and Washington Misick (current Turks and Caicos Islands Minister of Finance) were the shareholders, and Chalmers Misick & Co, a firm of lawyers in the TCI. All those payments were made without the knowledge or consent of the principals of Sandals,” Mr Stewart added.
“The unauthorised payments were made by a Senior Executive and then Treasurer of Sandals. This culminated in the separation of the Senior Executive from the company and was followed by Sandals filing a lawsuit against him in The Bahamas to recover the unauthorised payments. The damage done to the company by his actions was substantial ... based on the level of his authority, the company was legally bound by his actions and this culminated in the company having to absorb a fine of US$12m imposed by the Turks and Caicos Islands authorities.”
Misick and eight other defendants are facing corruption charges that date back 13 years. The prosecution claims that the former premier and others were immersed in corrupt land dealings with developers that netted tens of millions of dollars for politicians as a result of a policy originally designed to benefit local people and give them fair access to land.
The prosecution claims that Misick sought to influence developers as to whom they should work with, rejecting the developers’ choice of Belonger (local people from Turks and Caicos who have full legal status or citizenship rights) partner and proposing his nominated choices of Belonger. They say he sought money from developers “at every opportunity, even threatening to revoke Belongership if he was not paid what he claimed to be owed”. But the deals involving crown land so deeply discounted the value of the property and undermined government revenue that it led to the collapse of public finances and eventual bail out by the United Kingdom, triggering a Commission of Enquiry in 2008 and the imposition of British rule.
The Commission, headed by former High Court judge Sir Robin Auld, concluded there was a “high probability of systemic corruption in government and the legislature and among public officers” in the territory. As a result London suspended the islands’ constitution and replaced Misick’s elected Progressive National Party government with an interim administration.
Direct rule from London ended with the election of Misick’s former party under new leadership in 2012. The British government also set up the SPIT which has pursued allegations against the politicians. They seized assets of those accused. Misick’s personal assets were said to have grown from $50,000 in 2003 to an estimated $180m.