The key witness in former Public Hospital Authority (PHA) Chairman Frank Smith’s extortion and bribery trial threw the prosecution a curveball yesterday afternoon when she admitted that she had borrowed money from him to buy supplies for her cleaning company and she was testifying “against her will” because of pressure from police.
Barbara Hanna, the owner of Magic Touch Cleaning Company, acknowledged borrowing money from Smith in February 2016, one month before she was awarded an annual contract of just over $500,000 to clean the Critical Care Unit at Princess Margaret Hospital while she was cross-examined by Jamaican Queen’s Counsel Keith Knight.
Hanna said, “I got the loan to get some stuff that I was short of prior to going to the hospital.”
It emerged that Hanna received additional loans from Smith during the course of her contract, although she was unable to provide an exact figure.
Knight showed Hanna a document where she borrowed $25,000 from Smith in August 2016 before the case adjourned for the day.
Knight continues his cross-examination this morning.
Smith, 52, is the first member of the former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government to go on trial for alleged corruption while in office.
He has denied charges of extortion, bribery and misconduct in public office at his trial before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt.
However, while questioned by Knight, Hanna claimed that she only went to police after she received persistent calls from Assistant Commissioner Paul Rolle, who heads the Anti-Corruption Unit.
Hanna claimed, “They kept calling me. I didn’t go for weeks.”
Knight continued, “Because of that pressure, you’re here today giving evidence?”
“Yes,” Hanna replied.
“Against your will?”, Knight pressed.
“Yes,” Hanna answered.
During her evidence in chief, Hanna claimed Smith made his first demand for payment in April 2016, one month after her contract came into effect.
Initially, she thought the money was a one-time payment, but said she was shocked to learn that Smith expected $5,000 when she received her monthly check of $43,350.89.
Hanna said that she told Smith that these payments would affect her operations.
She said that he should have told her ahead of time, so that “I could put an additional $5,000 on the contract.”
Hanna said that Smith told her that it wasn’t possible because the contract had already been finalized.
Hanna said she was awarded the contract after former Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis sent her to meet with Smith.
Hanna said she went to Davis while waiting for approval on her bid.
Prosecutor Al-leecia Delancy asked, “How often were the payments made?”
Hanna said, “As often as I got the check. I never got paid on time.”
Hanna said she made her last payment in April 2017.
Delancy asked, “Why was the last payment made in April 2017?”
Hanna said, “After the general election, I realized he wasn’t the chairman anymore so I stopped paying him.”
However, Hanna claimed that she contacted Smith to get some of the money back.
She recalled, “I told him I need $17,000 to pay NIB. I was in debt to NIB and unable to pay VAT.”
Hanna said that Smith told her to come to his office to fill out a form for the money.
Hanna said, “When I read the form, I realized it was for a loan so I didn’t follow through with it because I already had a loan with them and was struggling financially.”
Hanna said that she communicated with Smith by phone and gave the court her cell phone number and his. During a status hearing in August, it was revealed that a representative from the telephone company would testify.
Hanna revealed that her cleaning contract had just been renewed a month ago.