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Slow court system delaying sale of $2 billion in seized assets


BY KARYL WALKER Editor – Crime/Court Desk walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chief Technical Director of the Financial Investigation Division Justin Felice (right) in discussion with president of the Jamaica Bankers Association, Maureen Hayden-Cater (centre) and Jamaica Bankers Association Anti-Fraud Committee representative, Stacey Ann Escoe, at yesterday’s anti-fraud seminar at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston. (PHOTO: BRYAN CUMMINGS)


CHIEF Technical Director of the Financial Investigation Division (FID) Justin Felice says the snail’s pace of the justice system is causing a delay in the sale of over $2 billion worth of seized assets.

The assets, he said, were seized from convicted felons and in order for them to be sold and the proceeds put into the consolidated fund, the Civil Court will have to hand down a ruling.

However, he said that some of the assets, including houses and motor vehicles, have been lying idle and deteriorating because of the length of time the cases take to be disposed of in the courts.

“Justice is very slow in Jamaica; we have to speed up the process,” said Felice, who gave the keynote address at an anti-fraud seminar at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston yesterday.

Felice said since the start of the year $83 million of seized cash has been handed over to the Consolidated Fund but the seized assets were still in the custody of the FID.

He advocated for a change in the legislation which would allow the FID to apply to the court to be allowed to sell seized assets rather than be burdened with keeping and caring them.

“If I seize a man’s BMW, how do I maintain it in the same condition I seized it for three years? If we sell it and he wins the case then we give him back his money,” he said.

Felice mentioned a case involving the seizure of US$550,000 at the Norman Manley Airport that his division was forced to take before the Court of Appeal after a magistrate ruled that it could not be handed over to the State.

The money was found on two foreign nationals who had travelled from Pakistan to Dubai to South Africa to Brazil to Panama before coming to Jamaica with the intention of flying to Trinidad.

They were sent out of the country and investigations found that they were travelling on false passports, he said.

“The money is still in the account. A judge denied it. We had to take it to the Court of Appeal. It’s been 14 months and it’s not before the court (of Appeal),” Felice bemoaned, “Don’t we want to give the money to the State to fix our schools and develop the country?”

Felice said the men were part of a group of cash couriers who launder money around the world for organised criminal networks.

In the meantime, he suggested that, due to a low conviction rate for fraudulent crimes and the slow process of trials, a financial court be set up to place all cases involving fraud and other financial crimes under one legal umbrella.

“Should we have a financial court? I am not going to answer the question but if you want it then lobby for it. Make your voices heard, you are powerful people,” Felice told bankers and other players in the financial sector who were in attendance.

Currently, all criminal matters, except murder and gun-related crimes, are handled in the resident magistrate’s courts.

“The glacial pace of the justice system, there is a delay there. We are not blaming anybody but it’s a fact of life. The criminal justice system is slow and we don’t have the resources that it requires and everybody says that we need to fix it. Some of my investigations are going to take years and years and years,” he said.

Source: Jamaica Observer

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