Bench warrant issued for Customs brokers is revoked, but Chief Magistrate lays down the law ahead of new committal date

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room
Observer by newsco photo

A bench warrant issued by Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh for Customs brokers Rowan Matthew and Foston George earlier today, September 2, has been vacated.

The two, along with Customs Officer Joezine Christian, were expected before the Court, at which time they would have been served the depositions for their case.

However, when the case was called, only Christian was present – which prompted the Chief Magistrate to issue a bench warrant for the duo’s arrest and detention at Her Majesty’s Prison.

After the men were informed that their freedom was at risk – since a High Court Judge cannot release them on a bench warrant – they, along with their attorneys, made their way to the Court.

Andrew Okolo, who represents Matthew, told the Court that his client’s wife had contacted him and he had told her that he (Okolo) did not have to be present in Court for the depositions to be served on the men. He explained to her that the document would be sent to his office if he was not there in person.

Allegedly, Matthew’s wife took this to mean that her husband also did not have to be present and therefore told him not to attend the hearing. Reportedly the woman said this to George, as well.

However, George’s attorney, Wendel Robinson, reportedly was not pleased that his client had failed to abide by the court date.

Both men were asked by their attorneys to apologize to the Court – which they did – but not before Walsh had raked them over the coals for disregarding the court system.

She ordered the men not to repeat their actions, or they would be jailed until their matter comes up for trial in the High Court.

Because Christian was the only accused present this morning, the prosecution was unable to serve the deposition. This will have to be done on October 5, the new date for the committal proceedings.

Meanwhile, when the Court inquired about the bail documents for the two men – who had gone the unusual route of applying to the High Court on Carnival Monday, August 1 – it was told the papers had not yet arrived from the upper court; only those for Christian.

Therefore, the men had to wait at the Court until their attorneys could get the documents to the Chief Magistrate. It was her view that, without the documents, the duo was not on bail; hence, Matthew and George faced remand until the papers were received.

The documents were later presented to Walsh – almost a month after a High Court Judge had ordered that they be sent to the Magistrates Court.

The three are charged jointly in relation to a fraud at the Customs Department.

Matthew, of Judges Hill Estate, George, of Pares Village; and Christian, of Buckleys, face charges of conspiracy to defraud, an offence which allegedly occurred on November 6, 2017, at the Deep Water Harbour.

Matthew and George are charged jointly for obtaining money by false pretense, while Christian faces two additional charges of corruption in public office and cheating the public revenue.

The charges allegedly relate to the misappropriation of over $25,000 in Customs revenues.

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