Minister with responsibility for Information, Telecommunications and Special Projects, Hon Daryl Vaz, told the Commission of Enquiry enquiring into the issues surrounding the extradition of Christopher "Dudus" Coke, on Friday (February 4), that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) paid U.S. law firm, Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, US$50,000 for lobbying services.
Mr. Vaz, then JLP Deputy Treasurer, informed the Commission chaired by eminent Queen's Counsel Emil George, that the funds were from legitimate contributors to the party, and that attorney-at-law and JLP member, Harold Brady, was acting on behalf of the party and not the Government in contracting the US firm.
In response to questions about letters of engagement entered into evidence, which showed that Mr. Brady signed the contract as a consultant to the Government, Mr. Vaz said this was an error which was quickly corrected. He read transcripts of a radio interview, in which Mr. Brady denied acting on behalf of the Government, and referred to court documents filed in defence of a case filed against the government by Brady, which stated that the lawyer had apologised for the error.
Mr. Vaz admitted that he made the US$50,000 payment to the US law firm, from the JLP's account, but denied knowledge of the source of an alleged payment of an additional US$15,000 to the firm, saying it did not come from the JLP's accounts.
He explained that he was called to a meeting at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), at which Mr. Brady and former Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Dr. Ronald Robinson, were present.
"There was a meeting taking place when I got there. I was called to initiate possible payment for the travel of Dr. Robinson and Mr. Brady, to go overseas to seek some assistance on behalf of the party," Mr. Vaz said.
He said he authorised the travel and purchase of airline tickets for both Dr. Robinson and Mr. Brady, who travelled to the United States on September 8, 2009.
Mr. Vaz said that a second meeting was held at OPM, at which discussions centred on what came out of a trip the week before, as it related to the possibility of getting U.S. lobbyists to initiate discussions on the party's behalf.
He said that Mr. Brady indicated that the law firm Manatt Phelps and Phillips was prepared to "take on the matter on behalf of the Jamaica Labour Party", but would need a retainer, which he had indicated would be US$100,000.
Mr. Vaz said that instructions were given by the Prime Minister, Hon. Bruce Golding, to proceed with discussions with Mr. Brady, in terms of making arrangements to retain the US firm as a lobbyist for the party.
"The result of the discussions is that, I indicated to Mr. Brady that it was party funds and, therefore, I was not prepared to spend US$100,000 without having some basis for some sort of performance," the Minister said.
He explained that the initial payment of US$50,000, as a retainer, was paid on the basis that, when he had finished discussions with the law firm, any other payments would have to be on the basis of some level of performance.
Cross-examined by Leonard Green, attorney representing the People's National Party (PNP), Mr. Vaz said that the funds wired to Manatt, Phelps and Phillips were legal and clean.
"These funds were paid from well known traditional donors to the Jamaica Labour Party," he said.
The Commission will continue on Monday, February 7, with the testimony of former Commission of Police Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, who began testifying Friday.
CONTACT: LATONYA LINTON