After hearing former Health Services Authority Chairman Canover Watson’s application to appeal his fraud- and corruption-related convictions on Thursday afternoon, justices for the Court of Appeal adjourned for less than 10 minutes before returning with their decision.
“We reject all the grounds of appeal,” said Court President Sir John Goldring. “They are wholly without merit.”
Watson, who was sentenced to seven years for being involved in a scheme that skimmed hundreds of thousands of dollars from the public hospital system’s CarePay patient swipe-card contract while he was the Health Services Authority chairman, laid out a number of grounds for appeal in his written submissions to the court. His attorney, Tom Price, QC, mainly focused on two of the grounds during his verbal arguments on Tuesday.
Mr. Price argued that three of his client’s five February 2016 convictions – those dealing with official corruption – should be overturned because Mr. Watson did not fall under the definition of a “public officer” in the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Law.
According to Watson, that is because the law states that someone has to receive emoluments from a public entity in order to be considered a public officer. Watson received at least some $15,000 in stipends during his time as the health authority chairman between 2010 and 2013, but Mr. Price argued that a stipend is not an emolument.
Mr. Price contended that the stipend was meant to reimburse Watson for his expenses. The compensation for Watson would only be an emolument if he profited, said Mr. Price.
However, Justice Goldring noted that Watson provided no evidence during his trial that the stipends were reimbursements for his expenses.
“He was paid on a set basis,” said Justice Goldring, adding, “Somebody receiving payment in connection to performance of his office is receiving a form of emolument.”
Watson also sought to appeal his two convictions for conspiracy to defraud, arguing that trial judge, Justice Michael Mettyear, improperly instructed the jury on how to deliberate before rendering a verdict on those charges.
These charges had to do with allegations that Watson and his partner, Jeffrey Webb, concealed the fact that they were involved with the CarePay system’s local contractor, AIS (Advanced Integrated Systems) Cayman Ltd.; that he had “adjusted” the cost proposal for the contract upward in late 2010; and that he and Webb provided bogus records to Fidelity Bank to set up an AIS Cayman account.
According to Mr. Price, the Crown had to prove that Watson was acting dishonestly in carrying out these deeds. This “dishonesty” element was not emphasized enough to the jury, said Mr. Price. The Court of Appeal disagreed, saying that Justice Mettyear was “crystal clear” in letting the jury know that whether Watson acted dishonestly had to be considered.
Watson’s other grounds for appeal were that he received an unfair trial due to the adverse publicity he received, and that he received an unfair trial because some of the evidence during the hearing was submitted later than it should have been.
Mr. Price did not verbally argue these submissions, but the Court of Appeal addressed them when rendering its decision.
The adverse publicity Watson received was due to his trial occurring simultaneously against the backdrop of former FIFA Vice President and Cayman Islands resident Jeffrey Webb’s guilty plea to racketeering in the U.S. Webb was also charged in relation to the CarePay scandal but has yet to stand trial in Cayman due to the ongoing matter in U.S. He is scheduled to be sentenced there in January.
Justice Goldring noted that the jury was asked before the trial whether they had strong views against Watson or Webb. Moreover, the judge said, Watson’s attorneys never asked for the jury to be discharged over the publicity from Webb’s case.
Justice Goldring gave a similar explanation for not rejecting Watson’s ground of appeal that prosecutors disclosed evidence against him later than they should have.
While the Crown did disclose evidence after the trial began – including a flash drive seized from Watson’s office, which contained evidence of financial transactions he carried out – Watson had plenty of time to review that evidence, and could have requested more time from the Grand Court, said Justice Goldring.