Panton and Panton: Brothers in crime?

White collar crime in Jamaica finally being uncovered? Desmond Panton arrested for massive tax evasion and fraud.In the 80s his brother Donald was accused of tax evasion too. Both brothers have a history of being accused of wrong-doing.

Desmond Panton, Daily Gleaner, August 17, 2010

News broke yesterday that Desmond Panton, a prominent Jamaican car dealer and general wheeler-dealer,  was arrested for tax evasion . As the Gleaner reported:

The Jamaica Customs Department yesterday closed down the operations of Key Motors Limited and arrested its owner, Desmond Panton, for alleged customs duty evasion.

The move came after a Customs Department audit of Key Motors’ operations reportedly discovered that some 50 vehicles were illegally removed from the company’s warehouse and illegally sold to un-suspecting customers, denying the government $40 million in customs duty.

A statement issued by the Customs Department late yesterday stated that Panton was arrested for customs duty evasion and taking steps to defraud the government of duties and taxes, after a meeting with Customs officials earlier in the day.

So finally a big fish has been arrested for a white collar crime. Interestingly in the eighties Desmond Panton’s brother Donald, was also accused of tax evasion amounting to millions of dollars. According to a January 22, 1992 Gleaner article:

THE government, pursuing its case to recoup millions in taxes it claims car mogul Donald Panton owes Jamaica, will now have access to Mr. Panton’s seven USA bank accounts…

The Jamaican government is hoping to use the January 13 ruling by Judge Stanley Marcus, under the US/Jamaica Tax Information Treaty, to buttress its case that Mr. Panton was liable for millions of dollars In taxes between 1981 and 1986.
The case is seen in legal circles as a test of the agreement for information sharing.

Panton, with interest in transport, rent-a-car, agriculture and banking is one of Jamaica’s wealthiest men He is brother to Desmond Panton whose Executive Motors is the dealer for Mazda motorcars Although their interest are separate, the Pantons between them would at one time or the other have controlled up to 80 per cent of Jamaica’s car Import business. Donald Panton became embroiled in the tax dispute with the government which In 1987 claimed millions of dollars in tax liabilities for the years 1981 to 1986 against the business tycoon. After a series of proceedings In the Supreme Court in 1988 the case appeared to have ended In Mr. Panton s favour with a ruling that he did not owe the kinds of taxes which had been claimed by the Jamaican government.

I don’t know if Donald Panton was ever charged or the money recovered. Between the two brothers it would appear that Jamaicans have been defrauded of enormous sums of money over the years. In 1990 there was even a kass kass between Desmond Panton and Butch Stewart, then president of the PSOJ (Private Sector Association of Jamaica). According to the Gleaner Mr. Stewart had said that dealers involved in second-sale  deals with motorcars, “should be put in jail”.

THE DAILY GLEANER, TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 1990 recounted another interesting case involving Desmond Panton:

‘Money pilot’ gets 2 years

THOMAS Vincent Lee. 39, Jamaican airplane pilot with American citizenship, was slapped with a two-year prison term on Friday when he appeared in a Fort Lauderdale court in Florida. Lee had pleaded guilty to knowingly and wilfully failing to declare US$598,319 to U.S. Customs when he landed a small plane at Commercial Executive Airport, Fort Lauderdale on November 7,1989. In his statement, Lee said he had flown the money from, Montego Bay on behalf of Kingston automobile dealer Desmond Panton and that the money was to pay for an'” aircraft being bought by Panton. Lee said that on November 5, he took a commercial flight to Kingston and the following day he got in touch with Mr. Desmond Panton whom he had known for three months. Lee said that Mr. Panton told him that if the deal was not closed by November 8, I989, he (Mr. Panton) would have to pay interest on the money owed. On Friday, Judge Vloch fined Lee U.S.S50, payable, immediately. The 24-month prison sentence was “deferred’ to a time and place to be determined by the US Bureau  of prisons. He is now on bail, but should report to U.S Marshalls in Miami, not later than July 6, 1990 to serve his term. On release from prison Lee will be placed on three years probation with special conditions attached. The Gleaner understands that the Jamaican Government is displaying keen interest in the case with a view to recovering the confiscated money which is now in the hands of U.S. Customs. It is understood that the Director of Public Prosecutions is still trying to get Lee to come here to assist in local investigations. Lee is also wanted on a warrant here in connection with a shipment of automatic weapons found on the Sangster International Airport runway, Montego Bay in October 1980. A warrant was issued for his arrest in 1981 and although he has been on frequent visits to Jamaica, it had not been executed.

Blow wow! While low-budget people are arrested for a spliff the likes of Lee and the Pantons walked free, despite serious charges such as tax evasion and import of automatic weapons against them.

According to the Daily Gleaner, FEBRUARY 2, 1990:

NINE years after warrants were issued for the arrest of airplane pilot Vincent Thomas Lee and another man, in connection with a consignment of arms found on the runway of the Sangster International Airport, Montego Bay, the warrants have not been executed. Police sources confirmed that the warrants were issued in January 1981 following investigations of the find of 10 rifles equipped with silencers, 12,000 cartridges and 17 magazines and instruction booklets. They refused to disclose the name of the other man involved. The arms were found in a canvas bag on the eastern section of the runway, shortly after Lee landed a Cessna aircraft there on October 24,1980.

FASCINATING. I wonder who the other man was. The date on which this cache of weapons was found is also interesting, for barely a week later, on October 30, 1980,  the historic Jamaican election when Michael Manley’s People’s National Party lost resoundingly to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) led by Edward Seaga took place. As the newspapers put it “the JLP whipped the PNP 51 seats to nine, the biggest margin of victory in elections since Jamaica gained Independence from Great Britain in 1962.”

Pure almshouse and shenanigans. I wonder if Desmond Panton being brought to book at this moment has anything to do with the caged bird in New York singing…will we ever know? Will we ever recover from all this?

The Don of a New Era Part 2: The Gideon continues


Sign in Barbados

Well, the Gideon (local slang for Armageddon) continues. Last night it seemed as if things in Kingston had simmered down but this morning i checked into Twitter to hear that the armed forces were lobbing grenades and perhaps bombs at a house in E. Kirkland Heights, a very upscale neighbourhood in Red Hills, Kingston. “The template of violence in jamaica has changed ova d las week. Its now an insurgency with all the relevant weaponry” tweeted one of the people i follow. “I wanna see the police deny this one. Grenades an bombs are the new weapon of choice for the state now.”

No idea whether the Police suspect that Dudus is holed up in there or some other Don. Things unravelled very quickly. On May 17th Prime Minister Bruce Golding addressed the nation saying apologetically that he was finally giving the go-ahead for the signing of the papers to extradite Dudus to the US, something he had resisted for 9 months. To many of us it was clear that the US had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse; pressure from the local media, business and other interest groups had also mounted in the weeks leading up to this astonishing about-face.

As i said before Dudus’ lawyer Tom Tavares-Finson was furious. He would take the matter to court the next day he said but the following day we heard that he had removed himself from the team representing Dudus due to conflict of interest issues; issues however that had always existed. All I can say is, do not use this as an excuse to slaughter innocents in Tivoli, an angry Finson was heard saying in interview after interview on radio and tv. His words would prove prophetic.

The day after Golding’s speech it was announced that a warrant had been issued for Dudus’s arrest. That would have been on May 18th. The rest of the week was tense with everyone expecting the Police and Army to invade Tivoli at any minute but the armed forces seemed unusually tolerant, waiting patiently for Dudus to turn himself in. Actually they were waiting till the weekend of the 21st, a long weekend with the 24th being a holiday in Jamaica–Labour Day–to make their move.

On the 23rd a number of colleagues and i were at the airport waiting to catch a flight to Barbados to attend the Caribbean Studies’ Association’s 35th annual conference presciently titled “The Everyday Occurrence of Violence in the Cultural Life of the Caribbean” when i saw a tweet saying that shots were being fired in the vicinity of Tivoli. It’s going down i said to one of my colleagues, a leading Jamaican criminologist, the war is beginning.

I wouldn’t say so he said calmly, assuring us that his information was that Dudus was willing to turn himself in to the US authorities and was expected to do so any minute now. Well, that turned out to be misinformation of the highest quality. By the time we reached Barbados we heard that a state of emergency had been imposed and I’ve literally been glued to Twitter and online media ever since.

In fact I’m happy to report that my tweets were actually picked up by the New York Times blog The Lede in an article called Following Jamaica’s State of Emergency Online. Channel 4 in London contacted me to see if i could write a piece for them on Dudus which i did. My comments appeared in their story Jamaica death toll rises as unrest continues.

Here is an excerpt from it:

Dudus has been an extraordinary provider for the inhabitants of Tivoli.

What makes him exceptional is that he has also managed to forge coalitions between gangs across party lines and across the country when needed because of the respect he commands. His reach extends beyond his immediate community across all kinds of borders and is a testament to his abilities as an astute leader.

Had he been legit and able to run for election he would have probably created a modern, efficient Jamaica the likes of which have yet to be seen, but of course one where personal freedoms may have been more circumscribed than they are today.

The problem is his links to the underworld do not permit the state to continue the tacit alliance with him and others like him that have persisted to this day.

The question is how do you take the milk out of the coffee once the two have been mixed. That is the predicament Jamaica finds itself in.

Meanwhile the Gideon continues and while many of us would like to comfort ourselves by thinking that this is a necessary bloodletting, a purge of the criminal elements in society, the truth is otherwise. Discriminating between criminals and law-abiding citizens is not as easy as we think particularly for the Police force, members of which are known to wield their ‘license to kill’ with wanton disregard. i received a heartbreaking message from a friend about the execution of a young man she personally knew, by the police, a story which was reported in the media under the headline “Cops kill three men in Back Bush.”

One of the men was well-known to my friend and no criminal. Here is part of the heartbreaking message i received from her this morning:

“Picked up one of my neighbours on the road only to hear that Ian Gordon, a sweet young dread who ran a little “venue” in Irish Town square was killed by the police. Hard to believe he would be involved in anything – he would always ask me if I had dominos, or other games, that I could give him because he liked to have lots of games for people coming to his place. On Sundays I would sometimes take him down to town and he always said he was going to visit his 2 daughters. He had a lovely girlfriend, also a dread, and it was a joke in Irish Town how they were always together. Anyway I’m sure this Observer story of how he died is accurate, and this is probably happening to young men all over Kingston. Very depressing. “

It turns out also that the early morning raid on Red Hills i mentioned earlier was in pursuit of Dudus who was believed to be holed up in a house there. In the process of flushing him out the armed forces have killed another innocent man, Keith Clarke, the brother of former minister Claude Clarke, who lived nearby, by mistake.

Mr. Seaga, former Prime Minister is also concerned about the safety of the residents of Tivoli Gardens, his former constituents and has broken his silence. I conducted an interview with him in January this year in which i asked him about his relationship with Dudus and the fact that he had once placed him at the top of a list of wanted men that he provided the Police with in 1994. I’ll post relevant portions of the interview later.

Time doesn’t permit for me to write much more right now. I’m still at the conference in Barbados but will end with two lighthearted takes on what is a truly dread situation back home, (to use Jamaican parlance).

The photo posted at the top of this blog is actually a piece of graffiti seen in Barbados on the day the armed forces went into Tivoli Gardens in pursuit of Christopher Lloyd Coke–Dudus. The blog that carried it said “This sign was seen today (Monday May 24 Bank Holiday) on the left-hand side of Collymore Rock Road going towards Wildey from Bridgetown.” Dudus’s reach clearly extends beyond Jamaican shores.

And of course Jamaicans being Jamaican still have a mordant sense of humour. The following dance poster was making the rounds on email and facebook.

Overtaken by the bré bré?


These days I seem to spend all my time sprinting from deadline to deadline, hurtling over the added hurdles of blog posts–pacing myself–hoping even briefly to attain the grace, elegance and power of Olympian Melaine Walker. Sigh. One of these days….

In the meantime there’s much to talk about. With the potential meltdown of the financial architecture of the United States occurring in the background it seems picayune to return to the PNP power struggle that came to a head last weekend–on the 20th to be precise. But it bears talking about for several reasons. For one the outcome left a number of Jamaica’s leading talking heads and pundits with egg all over their faces…again (the diatribalist also focuses on this, read his Errata).

For another, Portia Simpson-Miller, President of the Opposition People’s National Party, represents to the elite and middle class in Jamaica what Obama represents to white, bible-thumping, gun-toting mainstream America. Thus she comes in for the same kind of demonization and denigration that is often directed at Obama in the US. Which is worse I wonder: To be black (socially speaking) in a black country or to be black in a white country?

Nationwide’s Cliff Hughes, who had predicted that Bruce Golding would win the 2007 election by a landslide, again misread the political landscape a year later. Both he and co-host Elon Parkinson called it for Portia’s rival, Peter, the day before the September 20 election. In this they were echoing the Gleaner’s sentiments as well as the Observer’s. The latter’s chief columnist, Mark Wignall, also convinced himself that Phillips ought to pull it off; in 2007 he too like Messrs Hughes and Robinson had thought that Golding would sweep the 2007 elections.

How to explain these failures on the part of Jamaica’s leading journalists? They all to a man seem to have substituted wishful thinking for objective journalistic analysis allowing their prejudices to inform their professional opinions instead of hard intelligence. What is worse, having made such gaffes, all concerned proceeded full steam ahead with their Portia-bashing, berating the newly elected PNP President for not mentioning her opponent’s name in her post-election address and continuing to cast aspersions on both her and the delegates who had elected her.

“The PNP is in danger of being overtaken by the bré bré…” proclaimed Hughes on the Monday following the election. Bré bré I understand is a word meaning ‘much, many, plentiful’; when used in the way Hughes employed it it signifies what Don Robotham means when he says ‘lumpen proletariat’ or what Upper Saint Andrew is fond of referring to as the ‘Buttoos’.

On Oct. 24th on the TV show, Impact, Cliff Hughes continued his prosecutorial harangue against the PNP leadership wielding the whip of political correctness against the hapless Simpson-Miller. Portia should have immediately checked the delegates when they booed Harry ‘Pip Pip’ Douglas, one of the losing Vice Presidential candidates, and she should have graciously (and with remarkable hypocrisy) acknowledged Peter Phillips by name and offered him a role in the opposition ranks (az cawdin to Hughes).

Not having done either she had once again (in the view of these journalists) demonstrated the lack of ‘leadership qualities’ Hughes and Co. have been accusing her of for some time now. Never mind that the delegates might have been expressing legitimate grievances when they booed Douglas. When he lost his seat in the 2007 general elections one of the newspapers explained why:

Douglas, the politician who some St. Mary residents have alleged honks the horn of his SUV more often than he represents them, has been driven into the political wilderness by the voters in South East St. Mary. He was popularly called ‘Pip Pip’, an indication that he did not even give a full blast of the horn whenever he drove through the constituency.

One might ask why Portia Simpson-Miller should have censored or otherwise interfered with the delegates freely expressing their view of a politician who clearly, judging by the above, had done very little for them.

The open contempt expressed for the rank and file members of the PNP has been breathtaking. On the day of the election Messrs Hughes and Parkinson characterized the votes in favour of Portia as coming from the ‘heart’ rather than the ‘head’. In other words according to the hosts of Nationwide the delegates had hung up their minds and allowed themselves to be moved by emotion rather than reason.

In an article titled “Who are these PNP delegates?” Horace Williams, a human-resource specialist, gave quite a different picture from that of the die-hearted Phillips supporters masquerading as journalists:

There has been much debate as to why the Arise and Renew team did not win the PNP’s presidential elections, given the large sum of money provided by the private sector, and the moneyed class, their level of organisation and level of intellectual input from the middle class, the backing from sections of the media and the overall level of advertising and media exposure. It is also felt that the Arise and Renew team presented a vision of the future for the country, which was clear, rational and evident for all the delegates to see.

What appears to have happened, in my estimation, is that all those so-called ordinary black, uneducated, unsophisticated, ill-informed and short-sighted persons who voted for Mrs Simpson Miller are singing a different tune from the so-called educated, visionary, upper class, intellectually sophisticated and far-sighted Jamaicans.

Over the last three or so decades, the lot of the ordinary black people in this country has not changed substantially. There has been some improvement, but much more could have been done. They have voted for successive governments, but all that appears to be needed of them is to dip a live finger in the ink on election day. After the party has been elected, ministers of Government who then move into upper-class neighbourhoods in St Andrew are appointed, are provided with multimillion-dollar luxury vehicles, and are provided with all the trappings of modern life. Their friends and relatives are allowed to plunder the resources of the country for their own benefit…

…So, Mrs Simpson Miller’s win may be seen in the context of a drowning man clutching at a straw. In my estimation, the delegates are saying to the owners of capital, the intellectuals, sections of the media, the browns, whites and the other class: “You have not helped us so far, or much more could have been done”. Let us cling to Sister P who is one of us, whom we can trust. In my estimation, they are saying: “We do not trust you; we do not trust your company; you want us at the back of the bus; your only intention is political and economic power for yourselves.”

This is hardly an example of people voting with their hearts instead of their heads is it? On the contrary the PNP delegates calmly and rationally examined the lay of the land and coolly decided where to cast their vote. Those who were swayed by emotion rather than rationality, their hearts rather than their heads, are all those media VIPs who called it for Phillips and the Arise and Renew campaign despite the political portents to the contrary. How credible are they now?

Photo by Varun Baker, http://www.varunbaker.com

Patwa Grammar

Today’s a big day in Jamaica. The People’s National Party (PNP) which held power from 1989 to 2007 is undergoing a power struggle which culminates today when party delegates will decide whether the incumbent party leader, Portia Simpson-Miller, continues to lead them or if contender Peter Phillips will get a chance to take the helm. An unbelievable amount rides on the outcome of this race for each candidate is seen as representing a different class. what we’re seeing is nothing less than a class war though there’s a lot of resistance on the ground to calling a spade a spade. Much of this class struggle expresses itself linguistically and Carolyn Cooper had a boss article called “Nuff tings a go gwaan” on the subject in last Sunday’s Gleaner (see below). Read it; i’ll be back at the end of the day when the results are announced to add my two paisa worth. till soon!

Nuff tings a go gwaan?

Prime Minister Golding spoke straight from his heart when he was asked how the nation was going to honour our Olympic champions: ‘Nuff tings a go gwaan.’ Then in response to Jacques Rogge’s reprimanding of Usain Bolt for celebrating victory in typical Jamaican style, the PM’s passionate assessment was: “Is pure red eye and ‘grudgefulness’.”

In classic dancehall fashion, our prime minister dismissively sent a message to all bad-mind people: “Tell dem to tek weh demself.” Incidentally, that’s ungrammatical Jamaican. It should have been ‘fi’ instead of ‘to’. And in the sentence above it should have been ‘a’ instead of ‘is.’ And then ‘grudgefulness’ adds an over-correct English ‘ness’ which wouldn’t usually be there in Jamaican. These are good examples of English interference in Jamaican grammar. Bilingual speakers sometimes get their languages mixed up, especially when they are in a highly emotional state.

8.10 pm

Yessssss! Portia prevails! by 350 votes–

Photo credit: Pepper swimps by Varun Baker (who happens to be my sun and a great photographer, check out his website)