America to challenge Jamaica’s argument on legality of evidence
THE United States Government is preparing to challenge Jamaica’s assertion that information passed on to the Americans regarding the extradition request for Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke was obtained illegally, a US State Department official told the Sunday Observer.
The official, who spoke with the understanding that his name does not get published, said that the US Government would not be backing down from its intention to extradite Coke, 42, a businessman with strong links to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
However, the kind of “challenge” to be mounted was not immediately outlined.
Coke, referred to as ‘Dudus’ and ‘The President’, is wanted by US law enforcers to answer gun- and drug-related charges.
Critics of the Jamaica Government say the Bruce Golding administration has been deliberately delaying the process, with Golding citing, among other things, breaches by US authorities in obtaining information against Coke.
“That view should be contested, because information was in fact passed on to us legally,” the official told the Sunday Observer during a telephone interview late last week.
“We are very interested in having Mr Coke brought here to answer the charges. We believe that we are on solid ground,” the official said.
Jamaica’s Supreme Court will, on May 5, hear a motion filed by Attorney General Dorothy Lightbourne, which seeks to determine her powers and authority in extradition matters.
It comes after Lightbourne flatly refused to sign the extradition request for Coke submitted last August, citing breaches by US authorities in the process.
Several of Jamaica’s movers and shakers have backed a view that the matter should be sent to the court for a determination to be made.
Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller and Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica president Joseph M Matalon are named as defendants in the attorney general’s motion.
However, the Opposition People’s National Party, of which Simpson Miller is president, has moved to have her name removed as a defendant, claiming in court documents that she has “no personal knowledge, information, documents, or evidence that could assist the court”.
Simpson Miller also said that it was the United States that should be named as defendant as it is their interests that are being affected by the action brought by Lightbourne.
The PSOJ has also initiated action to have Matalon’s name struck out as a defendant.
The US Government, the source said, will be watching the case in court with a serious eye, although it might not have a direct presence in the courtroom during the hearing.
“The minister now has the authority to refuse any extradition request,” one of Jamaica’s leading legal luminaries told the Sunday Observer in an interview.
“All Golding is trying to do is get the court to say, ‘yes, she does in fact have the right to refuse an extradition request’. So he puts it in the court as a way of giving it legitimacy, assuming that the judge hearing the matter will in fact say that the minister does have such powers,” said the attorney, who requested anonymity.
Another attorney said that the Government’s decision to place the matter of determining the power of the attorney general before the court was another exercise in time-wasting.
“It is a charade. It might be an exercise in trying to convince some people that they are trying hard and doing the best on their behalf. But it does not have much substance,” the lawyer said.
A senior lawyer with whom the Sunday Observer spoke dismissed Simpson Miller’s claim that the United States Government should be named as a defendant in the case, saying that there is nothing that would legally legitimise such a move.
According to the lawyer, the US enjoys “Sovereign Immunity”, which would make the Americans immune from any lawsuits in Jamaica.
“The Americans could waive their right to immunity and indicate that they would want to have a presence in court, but I’m sure that they have not been asked,” he said.
“There is no court, local or international, that can determine such a matter. The Extradition Treaty exists under international law, so countries can only be cited for breaches of the international treaty.
“Both Jamaica and the US would have to agree to an international arbitration, to hear the matter, but I don’t think that anything like that will happen,” the lawyer said.
Coke, son of former West Kingston gangster Lester Lloyd Coke, who died in prison in 1992, is a wealthy businessman who has a strong base and following in West Kingston.
He is associated with companies that deal, among other things, with construction and trucking and owns a plaza in Tivoli Gardens. All the shops there are occupied.
Coke is also a leading importer of certain food items, including onions and red kidney beans, popularly called red peas, which he distributes to supermarkets, wholesale and retail outlets and vendors.
The matter of Coke’s extradition has been the most widely discussed item making the rounds since interest in the issue heightened at the start of the year.
The Jamaican Government has had to fend off criticism over its handling of the issue and is still dodging blows over its role in the engagement of US law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, to try to handle a fiery treaty dispute with the United States, specifically as it relates to extradition matters.
After several denials by Golding and other high-ranking members of the Government, senior government minister and general secretary of the JLP, Karl Samuda, admitted last week that JLP members had in fact approached Harold Brady — a local attorney who ran twice, unsuccessfully, for the JLP in general elections — to seek assistance from the US law firm.
In the meantime, the US Government official is firm in his belief that Coke will eventually be extradited.
“We have done all that is necessary under the treaty that exists, but we are prepared to go even further in ensuring that we have Mr Coke before the court in the US,” the official said. “There are serious charges against him which must be dealt with.”