THROUGHOUT the world, there is a double standard on the punishment for ‘white collar’ crime which frequently runs across class lines. Jamaica is no exception.
Invariably, the poor get a prison term for stealing the proverbial ‘mango, while the rich get a slap on the wrist after using part of their ill-gotten gains to pay criminal lawyers.
A large part of the problem is that our police can beat a confession out of even an innocent man, but are barely able to build a successful case through a forensic financial audit.
The prosecution services of the Government are overmatched in knowledge of the law and the cerebral and advocacy skills of the private “Bar”. They lose even when they tilt the playing field by non-disclosures and having judges who were formerly their senior colleagues.
The judiciary, while not attracting the top of the legal profession, will punish a transgressor, only if judges have properly prepared evidence and arguments put before them.
More disturbing are the delays and the backlog of cases which often lead to the disappearance of evidence, witnesses, jurors and even the accused.
As the security forces continue their campaign to flush out the criminals among us, they must be prepared to look right across the spectrum. Jamaica won’t rid itself of the scourge of crime if it only targets the working-class persons who, by ingenuity and brutality, become dons. This can only be accomplished if, in addition to the dons, we go after the lawyers, accountants, politicians and ‘respectable’ frontmen who are an indispensable part of organised crime.
These middle-class and upper-class criminals are a permanent set of untouchables, while working-class dons come and go.
We must watch out for lawyers who provide legal services to criminals under cover of the dictum of not refusing services to anyone who requests and can pay.
Naturally, criminals have the right of legal defence, since a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty. And so defending drug dons has become very lucrative. But the criminal lawyers need to be held to account.
High-class criminals move brazenly among honest people, posing as learned counsels and legitimate “businessmen”, the profession stated by everyone arrested for a criminal offence. They live in the most salubrious neighbourhoods, drive expensive motor vehicles, relax at their vacation apartment/villa in Ocho Rios and pay their US$ credit cards from accounts in Miami.
They pose as bastions of the church, like Don Corleone, patrons of the arts, circulate among the “glitterati” and are prominent in diplomatic circles. Some are involved in political circles and there is nothing to prohibit them from sitting in either chamber of Parliament or holding any office in the country. There is no opprobrium in Jamaican society about how a man makes a living, whom he associates with or whether he aids and abets criminals.
To change all this, we must find the human and financial resources and the will to upgrade our crime-fighting machinery to deal effectively with white collar crime.
Secondly, we must press the US Government to help Jamaica to expose the white collar criminals of organised crime here by providing the information to the Government of Jamaica, cancelling their US visas, freezing their US accounts, assisting in their investigation and, if necessary, requesting their extradition.
Let’s go after the real crime lords.