Archive for September 20th, 2010

Cops recover stolen Mercedes in West Bay

| 20/09/2010 | 6 Comments

(CNS): Police have confirmed that a car which was reported stolen from the Tropical Gardens area of George Town around 8.00 pm on Saturday night was recovered in the West Bay area around lunchtime yesterday (Sunday 19 August) No arrests have been made in connection with the auto theft but police said that enquiries are ongoing. CNS understands the stolen car was a black Mercedes Benz E-Class, police were unable to give any details on the condition of the vehicle once it was recovered. (Photo Dennie Warren Jr) 

Car theft still remains a very rare crime in the Cayman Islands and in most cases where cars have been stolen they have been used during the commission of another crime before being abandoned.

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Persistence prevails on FOI

| 20/09/2010 | 15 Comments

(CNS): Government has given up its legal fight to keep secret the AMMPA standards and guidelines following an FOI request made by local activist Billy Adam. The guidelines were used to inform animal management standards at the country’s two controversial dolphinariums but the Department of Agriculture refused to release them. Officials said they had obtained the guidelines in confidence and therefore could not make them public, despite the FOI request. Adam appealed the refusal, which went to the information commissioner, who ruled in favour of the release. Despite that ruling, government began court proceedings to keep the document under wraps but then abandoned the application for judicial review last week and handed over the document.

Adam said this was an important victory for freedom of information and illustrated that the law does work in favour of the people and freedom. Having gone through the lengthy process from the original request in May of last year to the proposed judicial review, which was dropped last week, Adam said it demonstrates people should not give up when they are refused documents by government officials, no matter how long the battle. He pointed out that he was not the first person to make the request but he was the only person to pursue the release of the document through the entire process.
“I encourage people that whenever a request is denied to always follow through with the appeals and not take nofor an answer,” Adam said. “This really is a victory is for the people of the Cayman Islands because government can no longer do as it pleases. The principle of the rule of law is beginning to come to Cayman.”
The Cayman Islands Legal Department, which was representing the DoA, did not give reasons as to why it had decided to drop the application for judicial review but Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert said she was pleased that the department has now complied with her original order and released the records to the applicant. However, she noted that she had welcomed the opportunity to participate in what would have been the first judicial review of one of her decisions.
“The application for judicial review did delay the release of the document. However I believe that
the FOI process does work and that the applicant in this matter followed through with their
request and was successful in obtaining the record they sought,” she added.
Adam pointed out that government had been particularly reluctant to release this information but was finally made to comply as a result of the law. “FOI is beginning to bring some accountability into governance. Government cannot keep some laws and regulatory documents secret. All laws and regulatory documents must be published,” he added. “The FOI law is allowing the sharing of knowledge and important information with everyone and we must make sure we all use it to improve our understanding of how we are being governed and hold those in authority accountable.”
As a vocal opponent to the dolphinariums, Adam had long raised concerns about how the standards at the parks were being monitored. He said the release of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums guidelines was an important factor in allowing the public to see for themselves if the standards at these two parks measured up to the ones government alleged to have set for the local captive dolphin facilities.
The request made to the Department of Agriculture was refused as the government claimed it had only been given the guidelines by the AMMPA in confidence as the standards are not available publicly but only to members of the alliance. As neither of the facilities are members of the AMMPA this raised further concerns that the facilities themselves were not privy to the standards by which they were supposed to protect and care for the dolphins.
The information commissioner found that the department could not keep secret a document that was essentially informing a policy decision and ruled in April that the document be released.
However, the DoA did not release the document and said it intended to pursue a judicial review. The 45 day deadline following the information commissioner’s decision came and went with no sign of the document.
Adam said government also failed to inform him of its actions regarding the judicial review and he had to press for updates from officials. “The fact that they tried to keep their efforts secret is another example of the failure of good governance,” Adam said. “I am asking the governor publicly what he intends to do about this constant failure of government to obey the law. After all, it is suppose to be his office that upholds good governance.”
Eventually, however, Adam was told last Friday (17 September) that government was giving up the judicial review. He was then given the document he had requested, one year and four months after he made the FOI application.
Adam said he would be commenting on the content when he has had the opportunity to fully digest the document properly, but in the meantime, he said, it was the fact that the release had finally been made which was itself noteworthy, especially coming on the eve of “Right to Know Week”, when the country will be focusing on the importance of the freedom of information law.
Although Adam has chosen to discuss the case publicly on this occasion, the information commissioner said that as a matter of policy her office does not name requesters as everyone is at liberty to make FOI requests anonymously.
In the meantime, CNS also continues to battle with government over a number of FOI requests and is currently following appeals on a number of those documents that have been withheld from the public, including the report on proposals to revise the legal aid system as well as the details of perks and benefits currently being given to government ministers over and above their salaries, pensions and health benefits.

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Perez re-trial postponed as case goes to Privy Council

| 20/09/2010 | 0 Comments

(CNS): The attorney acting for Josue Carillo Perez has confirmed that the Privy Council in the UK will now be hearing the appeal on the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal decision to overturn the acquittal of his client for murder. As a result the retrial scheduled to open in Grand Court today (20 September) has been postponed to make way for the higher court’s decision. Perez was found not guilty of the murder of Martin Gareau in May 2008 following a trial by judge alone last July. However the verdict of Justice Roy Anderson was overturned, following an appeal by the crown, as a result of a self misdirection in the judge’s ruling stating that the burden of proof was enhanced for a murder charge.

Following the local appeal court’s decision in March, Perez who is a Honduran national living in the Cayman Islands, was rearrested. After the trial in July 09 he had been freed from Northward prison where he been on remand since he was arrested for the crime shortly after Gareau’s badly beaten body was found at his Beach Bay home.
Perez denied murder, when he took the witness stand during the trial and said he considered the victim a friend. The crown’s case was based on two latent fingerprints found at Gareau’s home which matched the defendant who said he had been to Gareau’s home only a few weeks before for a barbeque.
The judge said in his ruling that it while it was plausible that Perez could have committed the crime, plausibility was not enough and the crown had not proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.  Justice Anderson explained that although the defendant had elected for a judge alone trial, it was still the role of the judge to be both judge and jury and make the decision on the evidence. The judge said that while he believed it was possible that Perez was involved, he could not say that he was sure he had committed the act of murder and therefore returned a verdict of not guilty.
The judge told the court that the Crown’s case was based on circumstantial evidence, and while it had demonstrated with the fingerprint evidence that he was likely there at the scene, there was evidence to suggest that if Perez had played any part he was not alone, but the Crown had presented the case as the defendant as the sole perpetrator of murder.
Perez currently remains on remand at Northward and is now listed to next appear in court in November.
In the most recent five murder trials prosecuted by the Crown this was the only case in which it did not secure a conviction. However, the CICA recently allowed the appeal against the murder conviction of William Martinez McLaughlin for the killing of Brian Rankine-Carter. This case has also been returned to the Grand Court for retrial as a result of a misdirection by the trial judge to the jury.

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Chuckie defends duty waivers

| 20/09/2010 | 42 Comments

(CNS): Following the premier’s criticisms of the previous administration for giving the developer of the Ritz Carlton concessions on his latest project, the former tourism minister has defended the decision and said the waivers were given when the country was headed into recession. Charles Clifford said the PPM administration offered Michael Ryan, the developer of Dragon Bay, various concessions in order to encourage him to go ahead with the project at a time when many other developments were being cancelled. He said the goal was to stimulate the construction sector, but he added that the former administration should have pushed Ryan to meet his obligation to build a new Port Authority marina. (Photo Dragon Bay site Dennie WarrenJr)

Clifford, who recently resigned from the opposition People’s Progressive Movement, was the tourism minster at the time Ryan was offered the duty waivers but has said the negotiations were headed by the opposition leader, Kurt Tibbetts, whom Clifford said did not force Ryan’s hand over the public marina.
“During the negotiations I felt that we should have pressed the developer to meet his obligation to build the public marina on the Port Authority land before we offered the waiver,” he said. However, although it was written into the heads of agreement as approved by Cabinet at the time, the previous government failed to make it a condition that the marina must be built first.
Clifford explained that the commitment by the developer to create the marina came as a result of a swap over Port Authority crown land that he was allowed to dredge during the construction of the Ritz. “He used the crown land as fill but has not yet met his obligation to create the marina,” Clifford added, saying the requirement remains in the current heads of agreement.
Despite his reservations regarding the developer’s failure to meet that commitment, he still defended the waivers and said the circumstances were very different in 2008 when this deal was made to the economic situation when the deferment agreement was made before the construction of the Ritz-Carlton.
The deferment payments made over the Ritz recently caused controversy when it was revealed in the Legislative Assembly that no quarterly payments had been made for eighteen months. The duty deferments were given to Condoco and Stringray during the construction of the Ritz Carlton hotel, and under the agreement the developer was supposed to make quarterly payments of more than $300,000 over a seven-year period.
Ryan has since asked for a longer period to pay back the outstanding duty of $6 million as a result of the recession. The premier said the negotiations are still ongoing and therefore all payments have been stopped.
Clifford pointed out that theses were two separate and very different issues.
“When we agree to those duty waivers on Dragon Bay we were in the midst of a global recession and development projects were being cancelled everywhere. The goal was to encourage Dragon Bay to go ahead,” Clifford stated, adding that the deferments were made in 1997 when the economic situation was very different.  
Clifford also stated that the waiver was not kept a secret as implied by the premier but was revealed at a previous government press briefing.
The former tourism minster said the agreement not only included the requirement of the developer to build the new Port Authority marina and associated public facilities but also requires Ryan to provide golf membership opportunities for Cayman residents on a new course that is expected to be developed there. It also includes the clean-up and replanting of the mangrove islands adjacent to project.
The mangrove issue recently caused controversy when it was revealed that a considerable amount of healthy mangrove buffer as well as that damaged in Ivan had been removed at the site. The DoE has warned that replanting mangrove is notoriously difficult.
Although, McKeeva Bush has been extremely critical over the Dragon Bay waivers following the row over Ryan’s failure to meet his quarterly payments on the earlier deferrals, he has said that his government will honour the waiver as the Dragon Bay development is expected to be an important one for the island.
The list of incentives given to Ryan for the development include: The extension of the Safe Haven lease to 99 years; the lease of the mangrove islands adjacent to the project; dedicated space in the airport terminal for resort residents and guests; provision of a dock at the airport for use by resortowners and guests; waive import duty for alternative energy generating, recycling and other eco-friendly operations/equipment; fifty work permits for key staff necessary in creating the new development and staffing the hotel; reduction of stamp duty on all land transfers to first time Caymanian owners to 4 percent; reduce import duty on hotel, golf and related construction to 10% for 8 years from date of main agreement; waive import duties on pre-opening and opening supplies for the new hotel; reduce import duties on residential construction to 10% for 8 years from date of agreement; waive import duty on construction materials to build new schools; waive import duty for construction materials to build a church or churches; waive import duty for construction materials to build public beach facilities; waive import duty for construction materials for public roads and related elements; waive import duty for construction materials for new Port Authority marina.

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Bermuda pulls through Igor but loses power

| 20/09/2010 | 3 Comments

(CNS): Bermuda has emerged from Hurricane Igor this morning with what officials say is major damage to the power system. Some 26,000 people have lost power as a result of the category one hurricane as gusts reached 93mph. A spokesperson for the local power company BELCO said at first look, "there appears to be considerable damage to the electricity distribution system Island-wide" but assessment teams and work crews are currently evaluating the state of the system. Igor is now moving away but passed at its closest point around midnight some 41 nautical miles to the west of the Island.

Early reports have suggested the island has escaped major damage although there has been flooding and minor damage to a lot of properties. Streets in Hamilton were covered in several inches of water and littered with tree branches and other debris. St. George’s has been hit heavily according to reports in the Royal Gazette.
Igor remains a category one storm and tropical conditions are still impacting Bermuda as it heads north-northeast at around 21 mph and it is expected to become a strong extra-tropical cyclone in the next few days as it heads to Newfoundland, the NHC said. Tropical Storm Julia is also heading towards the north east but it is expected to dissipate over the next few days.
Meanwhile, 400 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands forecasters have given another area of low pressure an 80% chance of becoming a tropical system in the next two days.

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EU hedge fund plans under fire

| 20/09/2010 | 0 Comments

(FT.Com): New proposals to regulate hedge funds and private equity funds in Europe could be a “catastrophe” for the venture capital sector, industry figures warn. The concerns stem from a move by Belgian diplomats to break the deadlock that has surrounded the proposals since summer. It is being suggested that managers of funds under €500m ($652m, £417m), which are not seen to pose a systemic threat to financial markets, should be exempted from the rules. The European Private Equity and Venture Capital Association is strongly opposed to an exemption based on size alone, saying it would cut across the sector’s ability to raise funds internationally.

“Small funds invest in local innovative businesses but must raise money worldwide from institutional investors who will demand compliance with the EU directive,” says Uli Fricke, EVCA chair.
She argues that, as a result, a blanket exemption would either force venture funds to voluntarily opt into the burden of full compliance with new directive or cut their scope for international capital raising.
The EVCA says it would be better to revert to earlier drafts that proposed lighter treatment for small venture capital funds, exempting them from depositary rules, disclosure requirements and some capital rules.

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