AMID mounting criticisms over the Government’s credibility, Prime Minister Bruce Golding yesterday admitted in Parliament that he had given the green light for the ruling party to engage the services of US law firm Manatt Phelps and Phillips.
Golding confessed that he had “sanctioned” persons in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to approach Manatt Phelps and Phillips to lobby the United States administration to drop its extradition request for Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke to face drug and gun-running charges there.
“I sanctioned the initiative, knowing that such interventions have in the past proven to be of considerable value in dealing with issues involving the governments of both countries. I made it absolutely, unmistakably clear, however, that this was an initiative to be undertaken by the party, not by or on behalf of the Government,” the embattled Golding said.
Prior to the admission yesterday, the Government had fiercely denied any involvement in engaging the firm. Instead, it had said it was “persons within the JLP” who approached attorney-at-law Harold Brady in September last year to seek his assistance in facilitating the opening of discussions between the US authorities and the Government of Jamaica in seeking to resolve what had become a treaty dispute between the two countries.
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, the prime minister, also held firmly by an earlier statement to the House on March 16 this year in which he said “the Government of Jamaica has not engaged any legal firm, any consultant, any entity whatsoever in relation to any extradition matter other than deploying the resources that are available within the Attorney General’s Department”.
Said Golding: “That was the position then. It remains the position to this day.”
He added that the only diversion since was a recent move by the administration to retain the services of constitutional lawyer, Dr Lloyd Barnett, QC, to seek a declaration from the court as to the duties of Justice Minister Dorothy Lightbourne as it related to the scope of her authority under the Extradition Treaty.
Amidst shouts of ‘nonsense’, ‘rubbish’, and ‘I nevah know a man lie so’ from Opposition benches, an unfazed Golding said the Government would without hesitation, facilitate the extradition of any Jamaican citizen wanted to stand trial for extraditable offences once the obligations under the Treaty were met.
“Christopher Coke is wanted for an alleged crime in the US for which he ought to be tried and the Government of Jamaica, consistent with its obligations under the Treaty, will do everything necessary to facilitate his extradition once it is done in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty and the laws of our country,” the prime minister said.
The Jamaican Government has maintained that the US has acted in contravention of the Interception of Communications Act, arguing that evidence gathered by the US was illegally obtained.
“The Government maintains that the information presented in support of this particular request is unacceptable because it has been used in violation of Jamaican law and in contravention of the expressed order of a judge of the Supreme Court,” Golding said, noting that from as far back as September of last year, the Government formally requested additional or separate information from the US authorities that would enable the minister to fulfil the request.
“We assured the US authorities that once this is done, the minister will sign the authorisation to proceed,” Golding added.
Yesterday, under persistent questioning from Opposition Member of Parliament, Dr Peter Phillips who had first questioned the engagement of the US law firm in March this year, Prime Minister Golding sought refuge in Standing Order provisions governing the conduct of questions when asked why he had not admitted to being the one to ‘sanction’ persons within the party to seek legal representation in the first place.
“…Why didn’t you say so then?” Phillips asked.
“The question I was asked was whether the Government of Jamaica had engaged the services of Manatt,” Golding said emphatically, noting that he had answered what was asked of him at the time.
When Phillips continued to press he said: “There is a great deal of latitude, many courtesies extended in this House but the member ought to be aware that in Standing Order 16 he can only ask a question of a minister in his official capacity in relation to his portfolio responsibilities; you cannot ask in the House anything about my responsibilities as party leader.
“Ask any question of me in terms of my official responsibilities and I am prepared to answer that…you cannot ask in this House anything about my responsibilities as a party leader,” Golding said to shouts of disapproval from the Opposition.
Despite the intervention of House Speaker Delroy Chuck, who insisted that Golding was within his rights, an incensed Phillips charged that the prime minister was attempting to intimidate. Furthermore, Dr Phillips said there was nothing in the Standing Orders barring Golding from responding to questions about an issue which he said impugns the reputation of not just the Government but the entire country.
“Don’t try come here and intimidate no one. Nobody not afraid and I don’t think it is an appropriate way to treat the business of Jamaica,” he said.
In his statement, Golding also maintained that Brady’s firm was the one to hire Manatt, Phelps and Phillips. He also insisted that the US$49,892.62 paid to Manatt for its services was not paid from Government coffers, nor by Coke as rumoured, but by ‘persons within the party’.