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Stolen passport pages and varying testimonies in passport scam trial

New information has surfaced in the case against police officer Ray Anthony John and his alleged accomplice, Shakema Charles, accused of conspiring to forge Antigua & Barbuda passport bio pages for illicit purposes.

New details have been released in the case against Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Ray Anthony John and his alleged accomplice former passport office employee Shakema Charles, who allegedly conspired with others to forge bio pages of the Antigua & Barbuda passport.

In April 2018, members of the the Royal Police Force of St. Vincent & the Grenadines (R.P.F.S.V.G) seized two envelopes containing bio pages, with photographs of people who were born in Australia, Dubai, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.

Vincentian resident Lonzel Jones, the man alleged to have conspired with ASP John and Charles to create those pages, reportedly gave details in his initial statement to police investigators, contradicting earlier testimony that John gave. 

M. Proctor, a retired Senior Sergeant of Police in the Royal Police Force of Antigua & Barbuda (R.P.F.A.B) was attached to the Serious Crimes Unit within the Criminal Investigation Department (C.I.D) at the time of the investigation. Sergeant Proctor was one of two local officers who interviewed John. 

The initial interview on April 18, 2018, was conducted by Sergeant Proctor who recorded the interaction on video. That video was played in court on Thursday. It showed John propped up on a chair, arms folded across his torso, and his attorney at the time, KC Dane Hamilton sitting a distance away, as he questioned him.

During that interview, the fifty-something-year-old man denied having any previous knowledge of the passport bio pages that were presented to him. He also refused to initial those pages for future identification.

Earlier in the day, when Commissioner of Police (CoP) Atlee Rodney was brought to the stand, he testified of having several contact numbers linked to ASP John. Sergeant of Police A. Malone-Merchant, an officer attached to the Regional Cyber Investigations lab at Langfords Police Station, Antigua also testified of having searched the phone of the Commissioner for three numbers all seemingly assigned to John.

However, The ASP in his initial statement insisted, “One phone I have,” and denied being registered to two other numbers read out to him even after being asked several times.

He was cross examined in the second interview conducted by officer Davis in the presence of Sergeant Proctor on May 10, 2018. There, officer Davis, based on research he said he had conducted, discovered that the accused had used different numbers to send WhatsApp messages to his alleged co-conspirator Jones and his colleague and friend Superintendent Lisbon Michael. “It is possible,” ASP John said in response to those allegations.

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Officer Davis claimed that he had by that time interviewed Jones who gave a different account of what transpired.

Contradicting Police Statements

R.P.F.A.B Superintendent Lisbon Michael was asked by ASP John to take an envelope to Jones when he traveled to St. Vincent in April 2018.

The ASP had initially told police that the envelope was unsealed and contained a “draft lease” that Jones needed to sign for a club in St. Vincent which he intended to rent from him. ASP John told the investigators that Jones was to modify the contents of the lease where necessary and sign it, agreeing to pay him $1500 monthly as a rental fee.

ASP John sent others funds via Western Union and MoneyGram he claimed was all part of business arrangements including $3,000 to Jones to purchase a sound system for the club he was renting. Jones, he said, was to repay him in $500 monthly installments until the debt was paid in full.

He added that sometime in April 2018, a US$300 which appeared on a MoneyGram receipt as the EC equivalent $816 was sent to Jones to assist him with his grandmother’s funeral. That receipt was recovered during a search of Jones’ home in Green Hill, St. Vincent.

ASP John denied having any other business dealings with Jones saying “ I don’t know anything about a bio page”.

The accused officer also claimed that the only interaction he had with Jones about any passport information was when Jones, in relation to the lease agreement, requested a picture of his passport page which he sent to him via WhatsApp. “He specifically ask me if I can send my passport picture,” he said in the video interview.

A Printer Used to Replicate Passport Pages

The investigator informed ASP John that during his interview with Jones, he admitted that John sent him the money to buy a special printer to replicate passport bio pages. He said he had told ASP John that he needed the printer so that the pages would look authentic. The accused gave him $2,000 to purchase that printer on March 26, 2016, according to the second interview transcript .

In fact, Jones denied having any discussions with John about leasing any property and despite ASP John’s testimony that he met Jones years ago through an acquaintance, Jones told police that John was the one who contacted him to reproduce pages “for people wishing to buy land in Antigua”.

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In relation to the case now before the court, Jones told police that ASP John sent him information with five names with a woman he identified as his mother. On April 5, 2018, ASP John reportedly sent back the pages saying the prints were too small and asked that they be redone. ASP John, he stated, even provided him with the bio page of an Egyptian as a guide to size the second batch of pages.

Stolen Passport Sheets

According to the statement transcript, ASP John had sent Jones a total of 54 Multi-Layered Infilling Sheets (MLIS) costing $275.59.

The unauthorised use of the sheets from the local passport office are suspected to have happened between October 28, 2014 and April 6, 2018. Around the same time, 217 Antigua & Barbuda bio page sheets were reported stolen from the passport office where the mother of his child worked.

Jones also claimed that the $816 that ASP John sent him was to purchase a plane ticket because he needed him to return from his grandmother’s funeral to St. Vincent in time to complete the remaining documents.  

Was Superintendent Michael aware of the Documents he was asked to Carry?

ASP John told investigators that he had shown Superintendent Michael the documents inside but said that he did not read its contents.

However in his witness testimony to the court the superintendent said that the envelope was sealed and that he did not open it. In addition, Jones told investigators that the accused assured him that Michael had no knowledge of what was inside the envelope.

ASP John was also asked questions about the relationship with his child’s mother in relation to the case. When asked, he denied asking her to provide bio page information and said neither did she offer such information.

During the investigation Sergeant Proctor led a team to St. Johnsons village where he carried out a search of the woman’s premises. The search, he said, turned up several documents and electronic items to include a BLU mobile phone.

The judge-only trial presided over by Justice Tunde Bakre is set to resume next Monday with the cross examination of retired Sergeant Proctor by the defence. 

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