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Thursday 20 September 2018
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I never took a bribe

CHIEF MAGISTRATE Sherman Mc Nicolls stated quite emphatically yesterday that he never took a bribe from anyone in Trinidad and Tobago.

“Ask anyone if they ever offered me a bribe, or gave me a bribe. Not a single one in this country can say I asked for a bribe, or got a bribe. Every single cent I have, I have worked hard for it.”

A tense-looking Mc Nicolls was the first witness called before the three-member tribunal appointed by the President to decide whether Chief Justice Sat Sharma should be removed from office.

Before Mc Nicolls was called to the stand at Winsure building, the tribunal members — Lord Mustill, Sir Vincent Floissac and Dennis Morrison QC — dealt with two specific issues.

During the lunch break, the fire alarm went off forcing everyone to evacuate the building. The courtroom was packed as Mc Nicolls, of New Grant, took the stand and swore on the Bible. He was presented for cross-examination.

Geoffrey Robertson QC, lead attorney for Sharma, started cross-examination. Mc Nicolls said on March 27, 2006, after Clico bossman Lawrence Duprey gave evidence for Basdeo Panday in the integrity trial, he called one Anthony Maharaj at Clico concerning a land transaction.

“I called about a $400,000 deposit for a block of land. We were in negotiations before the trial and he offered to buy the land that I had to sell. It was in that context that the money arose. I had been trying to sell the land for about six months for $4 million.”

Mc Nicolls said no one was interested in buying the land, so he was happy when Maharaj showed interest. “I was in debt, I had a $3.8 million debt. I was overdrawn at my bank, I did not have sufficient funds.”

Mc Nicolls said the day after Duprey testified, he received a cheque for $400,000 and deposited it in his account. But he could not give the name of the man who brought the cheque. “His name is not important, he was simply bringing the cheque from Clico. He handed me the cheque, not from Tony Maharaj, but from a Clico subsidiary, CMMB. It was a payment to me of a deposit for the sale of my land. It was that and nothing else,” an agitated Mc Nicolls added.

When asked by Robertson if there was a sale agreement for the land, Mc Nicolls said no. The Chief Magistrate stated that he did not give a receipt for the $400,000.

ROBERTSON: Was this a bribe?

MC NICOLLS: This was not a bribe. I became suspicious of the cheque sent to me. It was not from Tony Maharaj, but from CMMB. As there was no agreement, it aroused my suspicion, so I returned the cheque.

ROBERTSON: Did it occur to you that this was a dubious transaction?

MC NICOLLS: No. If I knew, I would have stopped it there. When I took the cheque to the bank, my conscience was clear. My conscience became unclear two days after. I said something seems to be wrong with this cheque. It was made out by CMMB, not Tony Maharaj.

ROBERTSON: Did you know the cheque was post-dated?

MC NICOLLS: I did not know.

ROBERTSON: The cheque bounced? The bank wanted an explanation? Was it grossly improper to receive money from Clico at a time when the head of Clico was giving evidence?

MC NICOLLS: The money was not sent as a bribe from Clico. I have never taken a bribe. I do not know what a bribe looks like.

ROBERTSON: It looks like the cheque you received.

MC NICOLLS: It is most ridiculous to suggest that I took a bribe. Mr Maharaj appeared genuine, he sounded genuine, I felt it was a trap, that he was setting me up. But I still did not think it was a bribe.

ROBERTSON: You returned the cheque because you were found out.

MC NICOLLS: I was never found out. I decided to cancel the transaction and return the cheque.

Mc Nicolls said after the completion of evidence in the Panday trial, he went to see Sharma. “I did not turn up to tell him about my big case. I cannot recall why I went to see him. I have no diary, I depend on my memory.”

Mc Nicolls said Sharma asked him about the Panday case and to go easy with the former Prime Minister. “I was in shock when the Chief Justice said that to me. I said nothing for the seven minutes I was there. I never made a note of it. I was never making a case against the Chief Justice.

Floissac intervened, “the cheque you got was from CMMB, when you borrowed the money to repay, whom did you make it out to?”

MC NICOLLS: Tony Maharaj.

Mc Nicolls will be further cross-examined when hearing resumes this morning.

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