Man guilty, charge falls away

Rico Montemayor will not be convicted after pleading guilty to operating a money services business without a licence because the charge was brought too late.

The offence occurred between 11 January, 2005, and 3 July, 2007. Montemayor, now 36, admitted using his personal bank account to receive money from Filipinos in Cayman and then forward it to their relatives in the Philippines.

He formally entered his guilty plea in September 2008, but admitted the offence earlier.

The Money Services Law requires a person who provides the service of money transmission to have a licence from the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority. The same law says that ‘on summary conviction’, the offender is liable to a fine and imprisonment.

Defence Attorney Clyde Allen argued earlier this month that the reference to summary conviction means the offence is to be dealt with only in Summary Court. Except where a longer time period is specially allowed by law, there is a six-month time limit for bringing summary only charges.

Such charges are to be laid within six months from the date on which evidence sufficient to justify proceedings came to the knowledge of a competent complainant.

In this case, the competent complainant was Detective Constable Martin Cook of the Financial Crimes Unit.

In a special hearing before Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale, Mr. Cook said he charged Montemayor on 23 January, 2008.

He explained that he was first made aware of a need for investigation in June 2007. He had been contacted by an officer at a bank who was concerned that the frequency of transactions through Montemayor’s account and the amounts involved were not in keeping with his customer profile. It was a personal account and Montemayor had told the bank his income was less than $20,000 per year.

Mr. Cook said he communicated with the bank officer who notified him that Montemayor had admitted what he was doing and saying words to the effect that he knew it was illegal. This came to his knowledge on 6 July, 2007.

Asked why he did not bring a charge against Montemayor then, Mr. Cook said his experience in the UK had shown that operations involving drug money or terrorist funding were sometimes screened by another type of activity such as money transmission.

Mr. Cook said he had concerns about ‘whether I was dealing with someone about to pull the wool over my eyes as to the true nature of his activities.’ He told the court he was also concerned other people could be implicated.

Questioned by Mr. Allen, he said he knew about the six-month time limit, but was not sure when it started. He noted Montemayor made an admission to him in September 2007 and he had sought advice from the Legal Department in November 2007.

Last week, the magistrate gave her ruling. She said the bank officer was competent and credible and Mr. Cook was a competent complainant. The statement of information by the banker was enough to justify proceedings, she agreed. The six months for bringing a charge began then.

She concluded the matter was out of time and therefore the court had no jurisdiction to accept a guilty plea. The magistrate was prepared to write out her reasons if the decision were appealed.

Crown Counsel John Masters said he would reserve his position

The magistrate pointed out that Montemayor was also charged with doing work outside the terms and conditions of his permit to work as a sales clerk. There was no evidence Mr. Cook would have known this.

Mr. Masters agreed.

The work permit charge was set for mention on 19 February.