By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
WITNESS Jonathan Ash was cross-examined again yesterday in the bribery trial of former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson and fought off arguments from Gibson’s lead attorney about his honesty and frozen bank account.
Mr Ash was also questioned about statements he made to police regarding alleged payments he made to Deborah Bastian, a woman connected to Gibson.
Gibson’s lead attorney Keith Knight referred to Mr Ash’s own testimony, in which he said while Ms Bastian told him that he needed to “forego $250,000”, the woman never actually told him who the $250,000 was for.
Mr Ash’s June 28, 2017 statement to police quoted the witness as saying: “Ms Bastian said ‘I need $250,000,’ and I told her she got to be joking. And I picked up my cellular phone to call my daddy, and she told me I cannot use my phone in here.”
Yesterday, however, Mr Ash conceded that he “assumed” Ms Bastian meant that the $250,000 was for Gibson, and that given the context in which the demand was made—during a meeting between those three about his outstanding funds—he would have to pay to get his money.
“…She said I needed $250,000 in order (for you) to receive your payment. So at that point I understand—ain’t no one had to tell me nothing else—I understand that in order for me to get paid, Mr Gibson have to be paid,” Mr Ash explained.
However, Mr Knight drew Mr Ash’s attention to the fact that according to his statement, Ms Bastian did not specifically say “I need $250,000 for Mr Gibson,” and further highlighted the difference between that request and her saying: “I need $250,000.”
However, Mr Ash said he corrected that bit in a second statement to police. And during yesterday’s proceedings, he said of Ms Bastian: “She said to me that the payment was for Mr Gibson.” But then he said, “Maybe not in wording, but in context, yes.”
Nonetheless, Mr Knight “politely” called Mr Ash a “liar”, something the man vehemently denied.
“I’m not lying, sir, it’s the truth,” he replied. “The records speak for itself. The WhatsApp message. It speaks for itself. ‘Any shingles today’? It speaks for itself. I am not lying, sir. It speaks for itself.”
According to the Crown, shortly after the request was made and Mr Ash began making payments to Ms Bastian, the man started to receive money owed to him for hurricane clean-up by way of multiple government cheques.
However, Mr Knight suggested that the outstanding money was more likely the result of the intervention of then-permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Jack Thompson.
Mr Knight, in cross-examining Mr Ash, yielded evidence that the day after making an initial payment of $50,000 to Ms Bastian, allegedly on Gibson’s behalf, Mr Ash met with Mr Thompson at his office at the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) on Harrold Road. While there, Ms Bastian walked into the office with Mr Ash’s bills, Mr Knight said.
Mr Thompson subsequently took the bills from Ms Bastian, retrieved a sheet of paper from his personal file, stapled it to the bills and wrote: “Urgent, pay immediately,” Mr Knight said, an assertion to which Mr Ash agreed.
The following day, Mr Knight said, Ms Bastian contacted Mr Ash and told him his cheques were ready, though Mr Ash maintained that only one cheque worth $250,000 was ready at that point.
Nonetheless, Mr Knight said Mr Ash ultimately received four separate government cheques worth $250,000 each in “quick succession” between January 17 and 19, 2017. And Ms Bastian was the one who contacted Mr Ash and told him when the cheques were ready, Mr Knight said.
Later yesterday, Mr Knight highlighted the fact that despite Mr Ash being the Crown’s “star witness,” the government had issued a “freezing” order on his account at Commonwealth Bank because he “fraudulently received public funds”.
“That’s how the government view you,” Mr Knight told Mr Ash.
Mr Knight said via the freezing order, Mr Ash, who has been granted immunity from prosecution, is now being portrayed as a “dishonest person”. And as a result of the freezing order, Mr Ash is restricted in dealing with whatever assets he has in that bank.
Mr Ash said despite the freezing order, he still has access to some of his money. However, Mr Knight revealed that Mr Ash is limited to retrieving $100,000 a week from his account, and cannot freely use his account.
Nonetheless, Mr Ash said he “never” saw the freezing order, and neither did his lawyer tell him why the government decided to freeze his assets. Mr Ash agreed that up to this day, he does not know why his assets were frozen. He said he asked the Attorney General’s Office, but they never gave him an answer.
Mr Ash maintained: “I ask for my money to be unfrozen because I worked for it.” However, when Mr Knight asked if the Crown said they would release his money, Mr Ash said: “No sir.”
Gibson is charged with 15 counts of bribery. It is alleged that between January 16 and 19, 2017, and being concerned with Ms Bastian, he had solicited more than $200,000 from Mr Ash as an inducement to or a reward for him giving assistance or using his influence in approving outstanding payments owed to Mr Ash by the government.
The Crown further asserts that on various dates between January 19-31, 2017, Gibson, still concerned with Bastian, consequently accepted $100,000 worth of payments from Mr Ash. Then between January 30 and February 28 of that year, Gibson accepted several cash payments from Mr Ash totalling some $100,000.
Between February 10 and March 27, 2017, Gibson solicited and accepted a total of $80,000 each from Ash, but this time he was not concerned with Bastian, the Crown maintains. The Crown claims Mr Ash initially made the payments to Gibson through Bastian for the first set of payments totaling $200,000, but made them directly to Gibson for the remaining $80,000.
Gibson has denied the allegations.
The case continues.