The London-based Privy Council Monday ruled against five members of the main opposition People’s National Party (PNP) including former prime minister Portia Simpson Miller, in the Trafigura bribery case, saying the matter under investigation “is one which is capable of affecting the polity of the country”.
Simpson Miller; former chairman Robert Pickersgill; current chairman Phillip Paulwell; former general secretary Colin Campbell and businessman Norton Hindswill now have to testify in open court in the alleged bribery case that had been stalled by legal challenges for over a decade.
The issue stems from a supposed $31 million donation by the Dutch oil lifting company, Trafigura, to the PNP in 2006 under the Portia Simpson-led administration.
Dutch companies are prohibited from making political donations, and authorities in that country want to question the five about the donation. At the time of the donation, the PNP Government had an oil-lifting contract with Trafigura. However, the PNP has insisted it was not a political donation and has said it has returned the money.
At the height of the scandal, Campbell resigned as Information Minister.
The National Public Prosecutor’s Office (NPPO) of the Netherlands later began an investigation into alleged breaches of the Dutch Criminal Code by Trafigura Beheer BV for the potential bribery of public officials of Jamaica.
In a 21-page ruling, the Privy Council, the country’s highest court, upheld the rulings of local courts, adding that the matter under investigation “is one which is capable of affecting the polity of the country.
“This is highly relevant to whether the evidence should be taken in public and was not a matter given undue weight.”
The Privy Council judges, Lady Dorrian, who wrote the judgment, and Lords Lloyd-Jones, Hamblen, Leggatt and Stephens, said that the PNP officials were given the opportunity to give their evidence in private but did not take up that option.
“There was no material before the court to lead to the conclusion that a public hearing might jeopardize the investigation in the Netherlands or any subsequent investigation or proceedings which might follow in Jamaica,” the Privy Council ruled.
It noted that the appellants had argued that the Dutch investigation was politically motivated and requiring them to give evidence openly supported that alleged agenda.
However, the Privy Council dismissed that, agreeing with the Jamaican Supreme Court, which first ruled on the matter, that the status of the PNP five, among other factors, was important.
“The court was entitled to consider that the public importance of, and interest in, the investigation, together with the public profile of the witnesses, were relevant to the question whether the proceedings should take place in public,” the judges said.