State to pay miner $5M for $54M diamonds lost in Police custody
By Shemuel Fanfair
The case involving the $54 million worth of diamonds – that vanished while in Police custody almost 25 years ago – finally concluded with High Court Judge Fidela Corbin-Lincoln awarding the applicant, Ronald Khan, $5 million. The State, through the Attorney General’s Chambers, will have to pay out another $200,000 in court costs to the now elderly retired businessman, who never saw his missing merchandise after it disappeared from the Mahdia Police Station in the Potaro-Siparuni district following a 1994 robbery.
The 430 carats of diamonds were taken as evidence by Police after it was recovered during an investigation after Khan’s Ewang Creek, mining camp was invaded. During that attack, his brother and another miner were shot and killed, while Khan’s life was nearly taken as he too was shot. He had testified that he has a hole in his neck and can hardly see owing to the injuries he sustained during that robbery.
Khan had outlined that following the recovery in 1994, he attended court on a few occasions after being hospitalised for nearly three months but said he never knew what came out of the murder and robbery matter. He was represented by Attorney Nigel Hughes, while Tiffany Castello had appeared for the State. The matter was put down for decision since late last year.
In the judgement handed down by Justice Corbin-Lincoln on Monday, she relayed that the matter concerned diamonds that were in the custody of the Police but observed the defendant’s contention that the Claimant, Khan, was barred by the Limitation Act owing to the time which has passed. The Judge recalled Khan’s evidence was that he made several requests to Police to retrieve his diamonds but was never able to do so. He first asked Police Commissioner Henry Greene about his diamonds when his Attorney Nigel Hughes wrote to him on November 24, 2010. It was observed that receipt of the letter was acknowledged.
“I am satisfied that Mr Khan made a specific request for the return of his diamonds. There is no evidence that there was a response to the request made of behalf of Mr Khan for the alleged diamonds to be returned. It is not in dispute that the alleged diamonds have not been returned to date,” the Judge explained.
She further reasoned that it could not be disputed that the Police had a lawful basis upon which the diamonds were initially retained. However, citing the Constitution, she explained that this possession or retention could only be required for the purposes of examination, investigation or trial but this “does not permit the indefinite retention of property.”
Justice Corbin-Lincoln also found that limitation in this case ran out one month from November 2010; that is the date from the letter of demand which was November 24 of that year. Having observed that the claim was filed January 4, 2011, the court determined that this matter was therefore not barred by statue. The State’s argument was that Khan’s decision to wait until 2011 to file his claim was not within the three-year timeframe as outlined in Section 6 and 8 of Chapter 7:02 of the Limitation Act.
Despite this, the Judge was satisfied that relief should be granted to Khan. Another issue was whether the property was diamonds as Khan contended or stones as the defendant, the Attorney General’s Chambers claimed. Khan had testified during trial that he was a pork knocker since 1950 and had decades of experience. “He was unshaken under cross-examination,” the Judge opined.
She noted that the Police were indeed satisfied that the stones were in fact diamonds since they accused persons who were charged with the theft of diamonds from the mining camp.
Regarding the assessment and value of the 430 carats of diamonds, the Judge said Khan led no evidence regarding the current value of the 430 carats. In the absence of this, Justice Corbin-Lincoln said it was then open to the court to make no award of damages. She further said that there was a problem of proof but not of absence of evidence of the amount. The Judge opined that since Khan failed to produce the evidence of its quality or value, the court has to arrive at a nominal figure in favour of the defendant, the Attorney General, as opposed to Khan. She therefore awarded the sum of $5 million and observed that the defendants have to pay costs of $200,000.
This case was before the court for just over eight years and Khan had alleged that late Commissioner Greene promised that the matter would be investigated but this never gained traction.
Former Solicitor General Kym Kyte-Thomas had disclosed that locating certain documents was proving difficult, since the matter had its genesis in Mahdia in 1994. The State never produced the diamonds which disappeared from Police custody. The case garnered increased attention after the Attorney General had published notices in the press calling for several Police ranks, including former Police Commissioner Floyd McDonald, to make contact with his Chambers.