Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Birnie sets the money free

In the ongoing case of US vs. Pedro Fort Berbel, a hearing was scheduled yesterday in Roseau. Presiding over the hearing was Judge Birnie Stephenson with Lennox Lawrence representing Kondwani Williams. In a just-released order from the court, Judge Stephenson has decided to set aside the order to freeze the accounts held by Kondwani Williams, Laurina Vidal and Dwight Horsford. How the United States will react to this development is an open question.
Judge Stephenson, affectionately known to us as "Birnie Crooks", has a lengthy reputation for delaying justice from being served. That is especially true when there is a suspicion that the outcome may not favour the government or its allies. She is currently sitting on a number of cases dating back years; the G.O.N. Emmanuel firebombing case, the suit against Thomson Fontaine, Linton v. Skerrit, the "Rapist Ministers" case, are just a few that she has sequestered under her judicial robe with no movement in sight. In light of how quickly she has moved to hear this case involving a close associate of the prime minister whose bank accounts were frozen, we are hopeful that she has dispensed with the lethargy and will now allow those cases languishing in her courtroom to proceed post haste.

Her decision to vacate the order freezing assets allegedly hiding in accounts owned by the three Dominican lawyers is likely to have a ripple effect in the Federal Court in Miami, where the US Securities and Exchange Commission is pursuing Ponzi schemer Pedro Fort Berbel; that is, unless a deal was struck that we're not aware of. You will notice that the order offers no details into the court's decision. Does that mean the parties came to an agreement that is being withheld from public view? Did the individuals involved agree to transfer all of Pedro Fort's money to the US government? If so, how will Mr. Berbel react to this?

We will continue to monitor this case as it proceeds through US Federal Court. If it turns out that the underlying details of Judge Stephenson's order ends up having a negative impact on the SEC's case in Miami, the US may look upon this decision as an attempt to protect Mr. Berbel at the expense of US citizens. How this would play out will be interesting. Will Dominica face US sanctions? We shall see in due time.

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