Fraud investigation targets Jamaica MP, businessman

KINGSTON, Jamaica – A major international fraud investigation has led British law enforcement officials to the homes of a sitting government member of parliament and a well-known local businessman.

MP for East Rural St Andrew and State Minister in the Ministry of Transport and Works, Joseph Hibbert, and businessman Deryck Gibson had their St Andrew homes searched by law enforcement officials Tuesday morning.

No details of the reason for the searches had been released and local police pointed The Gleaner to a senior British law enforcement agency, which probes high-level fraud.

“The UK Serious Fraud Office requested assistance under the Mutual Assistance Criminal Matters Act in respect of an investigation they are conducting,” Karl Angell, communications director for the Jamaica Consta-bulary Force, told The Gleaner.

Angell said the operation was carried out at the orders of a Jamaican court but refused to provide any further detail.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding was equally terse as he addressed the matter at the opening of Tuesday’s sitting of Parliament.

He said the relevant government agencies were cooperating with the British authorities.

However, Golding noted that it was not yet established that his political colleague, Hibbert, was suspected of any wrongdoing.

“I’m not now aware of any specific allegations that have been made, which may in any way implicate the member (Hibbert),” Golding told the House of Representatives.

“I am, Mr Speaker, naturally deeply concerned about this development. I have spoken personally with the member (Hibbert), who has denied any knowledge of, or involvement in any wrongdoing or illegal acts,” he added.

Hibbert was not at home when the police team, armed with search warrants, raided the premises in an upscale neighbourhood.

He later told The Gleaner he would reserve comments until after a scheduled meeting with police officials today.

The state minister said he was not aware of the reason for the search, which police sources told The Gleaner started shortly after 10 Tuesday morning and followed a more than two-hour operational briefing led by SFO officials.

Efforts to contact Gibson were unsuccessful as he was said to be in meetings. It has not yet been determined if he was at home at the time of the police operation.

Government department

In the meantime, the information officer for the SFO was also unable to provide any further details when he was contacted by The Gleaner sometime after 8 p.m. GMT.

The SFO is an independent government department that inves-tigates and prosecutes serious or complex fraud as part of the UK criminal justice system.

The office is headed by a director who is appointed by and accountable to the UK attorney general.

According to its mandate, the SFO only accepts cases of suspected fraud when it appears to be so serious or complex that its investigation should be carried out by those responsible for its prosecution.

Before taking a case, the SFO examines issues such as whether the value of the alleged fraud exceeds £1 million and if there is a significant international dimension.