Three charged in Customs fraud appear in court on Wednesday after weekend bail and will return on October 5 for committal

The trio charged in relation to fraud at the Customs Department made their first appearance in the St. John’s Magistrates’ Court today, August 3, and a date was set for their committal proceedings.

Customs Officer Joezine Christian and brokers Rowan Matthew and Foston George will return to court on October 5, at which time a magistrate will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to send their matter to the High Court for a trial before a judge and jury or a judge alone.

Matthew, of Judges Hill Estate; George of Pares Village; and Christian of Buckleys are jointly charged with conspiracy to defraud, an offence which allegedly occurred on November 6, 2017, at the Deep Water Harbour.

Meanwhile, Matthew and George are charged jointly for obtaining money by false pretense, on the same date and at the same place.

Christian faces two additional charges of corruption in public office and cheating the public revenue, alleged to have occurred in November 2017.

The charges allegedly relate to over $25,000 in Customs revenues.

The three were arrested and charged last Friday, July 29. However, they were spared spending the long holiday in the lock-up, as their attorney moved swiftly to get them bail.

An earlier report said the Magistrates Court would have been convened on Saturday, July 30, to accommodate a bail application.

However, sources say that did not materialize, and bail was subsequently granted by High Court Justice Colin Williams after an application was made on the weekend

Residents greeted the news of their arrest with cynicism and asked about the millions that Prime Minister Gaston Browne said had been misappropriated in a conspiracy between Customs staff and brokers.

In fact, Browne, who is also the Minister of Finance, claimed his signature had been forged to accommodate some of the alleged acts of fraud.

This investigation into the Customs Department reportedly has been going on for over three years.

Speculations about a cover-up have been rife since Customs Officer Cornell Benjamin was shot and injured at his home, and they heightened into fear when another officer, Nigel Christian, was abducted and murdered the following year.