Lawyer accused of fraud in National Fuels sale acquitted

ATTORNEY-AT-LAW Peter Asher, who was in 2020 hit with several fraud-related charges by Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch (C-TOC) detectives over the 2004 sale of eight gas stations, was on Tuesday acquitted after the prosecution’s case against him crumbled due to what Supreme Court Judge Justice Leighton Pusey ruled was insufficient evidence.

In the trial, which began on October 3, prosecutors argued that businessman Royalton Decambre, now 79 years old, entered into a sale agreement with Total Jamaica Limited in January 2004 while he was the chief executive officer of National Fuels and Lubricants Limited. This agreement was for Decambre’s sale of eight gas stations spanning Mona Heights, Harbour View, Greenwich Pen, Bybrook, Little Retreat, Rosedale, Featherbed Lane, and Maverley to Total.

Decambre, in giving evidence during the trial, said that in January 2004 Asher, who was the attorney representing Total, came to his office with a stack of transfer documents that he wanted him to sign. According to Decambre, he started to sign one of the transfers and might possibly have completed signing it, but after enquiring about payment Asher hastily left with the documents.

He said on April 1 that same year he observed that Total had taken over the gas stations and was operating them. According to Decambre, on getting a copy of the transfer documents from National Land Agency he saw that the properties were transferred to Total. Adamant that he has never received any money for the “land agreement” from Total, Decambre said he subsequently made a report to the Fraud Squad and MOCA. Asher was later arrested and charged.

However, Justice Pusey, in ruling on the matter on Tuesday, said he had found “there was not enough evidence for Asher to be called upon to answer”.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), which had at the time ruled that Asher be charged with nine counts of forgery, one count of uttering a forged document, one count of conspiracy to forge a document and causing property to be transferred by virtue of a forged document, said the trial judge found that he “was not sure that there was in fact a forgery”.

This, the judge explained, was based on what was said by Decambre while giving his evidence. Decambre had told the court that he “may have signed one of the transfer documents, but he was not sure which one”. He further told the court that he “can no longer recognise what is his signature, as there were so many documents and forgeries”.

Further, during cross-examination, it emerged that Decambre, in two statements that he had given to the police, had said that he signed the transfers but had not affixed the company seal.

“There was, therefore, a significant doubt if the complainant had in fact signed these documents, or if he had only signed one, which one he signed,” the ODPP said in a statement.

Furthermore, Justice Pusey indicated that he could not be sure there was a fraud, or an intention to defraud, as the only evidence that Decambre did not in fact get the money for the properties was “his say so”. There was, however, evidence that Decambre’s attorney was sent money for at least one of the properties.

In the end the trial the judge said there was no evidence that Asher had forged Decambre’s signature. Furthermore, he said the forensic document examiner called by the Crown was only able to say that it was not Decambre’s signature, and was not able to say that it was Asher who wrote the signature..

The ODPP said its case had “depended significantly on the evidence and credibility of Decambre”.

“The learned trial judge, at the close of the Crown’s case, did not believe that there was substantial evidence to ground the elements of the offence, given the high standard of proof that the Crown had to meet, and the defendant [Asher] was acquitted,” the ODPP stated.