By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
BUSINESSMAN Jonathan Ash yesterday claimed he can’t remember telling this newspaper he did not know former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson, despite evidence to the contrary.
Mr Ash testified that he “can’t recall” adamantly telling a Tribune reporter that not only did he not know the former labour minister, the reporter must have been “crazy” for even asking him if he did.
That, despite the fact that not only was Mr Ash quoted as saying the remarks in question, the evidence led during Gibson’s ongoing bribery trial, in which he is the key witness, suggests otherwise.
During yesterday’s proceedings, lead defence attorney Keith Knight, QC, drew Mr Ash’s attention to statements Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis made in Parliament about him in June 2017 concerning the work he did during the Hurricane Matthew clean-up efforts.
According to Mr Knight, as a result of Dr Minnis’ remarks, The Tribune contacted Mr Ash for comment. But when contacted, Mr Ash told the reporter: “Boss man, get off my phone talking (expletive). I don’t know Shane Gibson. You crazy?”
Afterwards, Mr Ash ended the phone call abruptly.
Mr Ash, in response to a question from Mr Knight yesterday, said he couldn’t remember saying those words. When Mr Knight told him he was not speaking the truth in saying he can’t remember, Mr Ash replied: “That’s what you say, sir.”
Mr Ash said he could only remember some of what Dr Minnis was quoted by The Tribune as saying in Parliament concerning him, though he specifically said he remembered hearing his name being mentioned.
When asked if from what he heard, Dr Minnis referred to him in a “negative way”, Mr Ash said: “I wouldn’t say that.” When Mr Knight asked Mr Ash if he was then pleased with what Dr Minnis said about him in Parliament, Mr Ash said: “I wouldn’t say I was pleased. He said it. I wasn’t upset neither.”
But when Mr Knight asked Mr Ash if he would ever deny knowing Gibson, the man said: “No, sir.”
Yesterday, Mr Knight also questioned Mr Ash about his immunity agreement and the circumstances surrounding how Mr Ash came to give a second statement to police concerning Gibson.
According to Mr Knight, Mr Ash gave a first statement on June 28, 2017, and a second statement in September of that year. In response to questions from Mr Knight, Mr Ash explained that he had to sign a second statement because “slight changes” were made to his statement. He said he couldn’t say how many “slight changes” were made, but said he was the one who made the changes.
Mr Ash also said that a police detective decided that the changes needed to be made. He said just himself and the detective were present when the changes were made.
Mr Knight subsequently asserted that Mr Ash gave the second statement the day after he had signed an agreement with the Crown to ensure he would be granted immunity from prosecution in the matter.
Concerning the immunity agreement, Mr Ash said it was his lawyer at the time, Alicia Bowe, who dealt with those negotiations with the Attorney General’s Office. He said he never had any direct contact with officials at the AG’s Office during those negotiations, and only did when he actually signed the agreement.
Mr Ash said the signing of that agreement took place at the AG’s Office. The evidence has that document as being signed on June 27, 2017. Mr Ash said the attorney general was present at the time and also signed the agreement.
Mr Ash initially agreed with Mr Knight that he “went to the police” and gave a statement the day after he signed the immunity agreement. Mr Ash, in response to a question by Mr Knight, said he knew he would not be prosecuted while he was giving the second statement.
However, Mr Ash later said he couldn’t recall when he signed the second statement, and that “they (the authorities) dated it that day”. He further stated that though he wasn’t certain when he signed the second statement, he “went to the police before” he signed.
The month after Mr Ash signed the immunity agreement, however, a freezing order was issued against his bank account at Commonwealth Bank over allegations that he had fraudulently received public funds. The original order was dated July 5, 2017; a variation was made on July 20 of that year.
The freezing order was discharged on September 24 of this year.
Nonetheless, Mr Ash said while the freezing order was in place, he could still conduct daily banking transactions, such as depositing and withdrawing money. Previously, Mr Knight said the order stipulated that Mr Ash could withdraw only $100,000 per week from his account. Mr Ash also said that monies could still be wired to his account.
“They froze my money, not my account,” Mr Ash said.
Gibson is charged with 15 counts of bribery. He has denied the allegations.
The case continues.