By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
BUSINESSMAN Jonathan Ash yesterday claimed that the prime minister’s pronouncements about his involvement in the Hurricane Matthew clean-up caused him to receive death threats and warnings to leave the country.
Mr Ash testified in court that after the prime minister made his comments, one man in particular started sending him pictures of “dead people” and told him: “Bey we ga do this to you (sic).”
Mr Ash said other men from various areas in New Providence, like the Nassau Village community, started to tell him that he had “better leave the island” and that he “better don’t let no one catch him”.
Mr Ash’s statements were in response to a request from the jury for him to explain what he meant when he said he was “in fear” for his life while he allegedly paid former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson bribes to ensure he would be paid the $1m plus he was owed for hurricane clean-up work.
Yesterday, he said at the time, the government had sent him a number to employ to complete the clean-up work. Most of them, he said, had on ankle monitoring devices, and some had curfews. Others, Mr Ash said, were members of various gangs in New Providence, such as One Order, Fire and Theft, and Rebellion.
Mr Ash said whenever the government was slow to pay him, he would see the “anger” in his employees.
Mr Ash told the court it got to a point where he would have to call former Assistant Commissioner of Police Clayton Fernander, who at the time was in charge of the Central Detective Unit (CDU), on Fridays for his assistance.
Mr Ash also said that he ended up hiring police officers — an Officer Moxey in particular — to be present on Fridays to ensure there were no altercations in the event that “there was a hang up on my money”.
Previously, Mr Ash said that after Gibson messaged him on WhatsApp in March 2017 and told him he needed between $50,000 and $100,000 for nine Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) members of parliament, and he subsequently made those payments, various people reached out to him about him “making all this money” and telling him how the prime minister had his name “ringing” throughout the country.
At that point, Mr Ash said he felt like he was “between a rock and a hard place”, and began to get afraid. He said with him being a “small businessman,” and before he got “taken out”, he should “come forward and say what happened”.
Yesterday, Mr Ash explained that it was after the prime minister made his statements about his involvement in the hurricane clean-up efforts the year before, that he received the threatening message from one man.
“And then I had fellows like from Nassau Village begin to say, ‘young man you better leave the island,’ and ‘boy he better don’t let no one catch him,’ and ‘this what we ga do.’ So that’s why I said I was in fear for my life,” Mr Ash said.
He also denied assertions by lead defence attorney Keith Knight, QC, that he is a “dangerously untruthful man” who testified against Gibson only because he got immunity from prosecution.
Mr Ash further denied the accusation that he had “a number” of other reasons for giving false testimony against Gibson, which included the Crown releasing a freezing order on his bank account on September 24, just before Gibson’s trial started.
“You could take it now,” Mr Ash said. “Take the money and the (agreement). I’d do the same thing.”
As vocal and defensive as he has ever been since taking the witness stand, and moments after Mr Knight had urged him to “confess your sins”, Mr Ash instead accused the Jamaican attorney of conjuring up lies in his client’s defense.
“I’m not lying,” Mr Ash bellowed. “You are lying for Mr Gibson! You are, not me. Straight up.
“I know I’m speaking the truth,” he added. “My statement, my WhatsApp messages, the text messages, the phone calls concerning the ‘shingles’, everything is there. I am not lying! I rest my case.”
Mr Knight subsequently drew Mr Ash’s attention to the fact that he was assisting Gibson in his political campaign efforts in the lead-up to the May 2017 general election, free of charge according to the evidence, in circumstances where he was in a compromising position.
However, Mr Ash replied: “You ever hear the saying say when your hand is in the lion’s mouth, what do you do? You just yuck it out? You take your time.”
When Mr Knight asked Mr Ash if after the May 10, 2017 general election, if his hand was still “in the lion’s mouth”, Mr Ash replied: “Still right there.”
Mr Ash also denied Mr Knight’s assertions that he lied on Gibson because of his “good relationship” with Deborah Bastian—the woman who allegedly acted as a middle-woman in accepting Mr Ash’s bribery payments on Gibson’s behalf, and his consequent desire to “protect” her.
Conversely, Mr Ash said while he and Ms Bastian had an “okay relationship”, she and Gibson had an even better relationship, in that the former minister rehired her to work at a government agency after she was either fired or had retired.
“We had an okay relationship,” Mr Ash said. “But her and Mr Gibson had a better relationship than me. He brought her back. She was fired. He brought her back into National Insurance. Check the records.”
When asked if he knew that as a fact, Mr Ash merely repeated: “Check the records.” He further stated that he couldn’t recall when Gibson brought Ms Bastian back to work, he maintained: “I know she was retired,” and said she had told him about the matter.
However, despite his insisting that he was not lying on Gibson Mr Ash admitted that on a number of occasions, including some in 2017, he provided false information to “agents of the state.”
In response to questions by Mr Knight, Mr Ash said that in 2013, he had some “difficulties” with the controller of the Department of Customs and Excise Department after he submitted a false declaration of entry.
“I’m a businessman…if someone gives me an invoice, and I’m a broker, I only could go by what they give me,” Mr Ash explained.
Then in 2017, Mr Ash submitted a false invoice.
On another occasion, Mr Knight said, Mr Ash, by way of company, High Rollers Trucking, submitted another false invoice.
The court case continues.