UNC MP for Pointe-a-Pierre David Lee and licenced firearms dealer Hugh Leong Poi appeared before the chief magistrate on Monday for the first time since they were charged last month.
The two appeared virtually before Chief Magistrate Maria Busby Earle-Caddle on charges of conspiring to defraud the State of $1.4 million in motor vehicle taxes.
The charges arise from the purchase of a $2.3 million Mercedes Benz AMG G 63 car from New Zealand.
They were charged on September 16 and 21 respectively by the head of the police Financial Investigations Branch, Snr Supt Wendell Lucas.
Since it was the first time they were appearing before a magistrate, the joint charge was officially read to them. Since the charge was laid indictably, they were told they will not be called on to enter a plea.
Lucas told Busby Earle-Caddle the police file on their investigations was partly completed and he intended to have it sent to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions within a month.
He said there were some 25 witnesses, nine of whom were police officers, and their statements had not yet been sworn to.
Attorneys for both men asked for the standard disclosure of items such as station diary extracts, interview notes and any documents the police relied on.
A summary of the evidence against both men was also e-mailed to their lawyers during the virtual hearing, and Lucas promised to deliver by morning, the men’s signed and unsigned statements.
The matter was adjourned to December 1 for a status hearing.
According to the charge, Leong Poi, who owns Sports Outlet Holdings and related companies, is accused of conspiring with Lee between March 24 and June 8, 2019, to defraud the State of $1.4 million.
Lee was slapped with two charges – that he conspired with Leong Poi to defraud the State of $1.4 million by obtaining tax exemptions of $1.4 million for the purchase of a Mercedes Benz and falsely claimed the car was for his use and benefit as an MP. That, too, was read out to him on Monday.
Lee, a deputy political leader of the UNC, was released on $1 million bail and Leong Poi was released on $800,000, which will continue.
The State alleges that the car was bought for Leong Poi, who was not entitled to tax exemptions, as are MPs. As part of their terms and conditions, MPs are exempt from paying motor vehicle taxes and customs duties. They may not sell the vehicle within two years without paying the relevant taxes.
According to investigators, Lee was granted total exemptions of $1,416,292.65 on the car, which included $293,094.02 in value-added tax (VAT), $298,650 in motor vehicle tax and $824,548.63 in customs duty.
In a statement shortly after he was charged, Lee said the charges against him were nothing short of a “political witch hunt and distraction by this Government.” He said he had faith in the independent institutions of the Judiciary and “I await my day in court to prove my innocence.”
He denied the allegations that he conspired to defraud the State of taxes and claimed he owned the Benz, which was in his name and which he had declared to the Integrity Commission each year since the purchase.
“Put simply, I have been charged for a vehicle that I am the legal owner of, but this is an issue I am confident, given the proof, will be vindicated in our nation’s courts,” his statement said.
Lee is represented by attorneys Wayne Sturge, Mario Merritt and Alexia Romero. Leong Poi is represented by attorneys Sophia Chote, SC, Samantha Ramsaran, Alexia Romero and Jose Young.