Former bank worker gets $$ for malicious prosecution

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Ricky Rahim – File photo

A former First Citizens Bank employee who was arrested and charged with larceny in 2012 will receive compensation for malicious prosecution.

On Monday, Justice Ricky Rahim ordered the State to pay Kimoy Chong Sing-Christian a total of $178,000 with interest to run from May 18, 2018, to the date of his judgment.

Sing-Christian was accused of knowingly approving loan applications that contained fraudulent documents and disbursing the loan sums to the applicants. She appeared in court for four years before the case was dismissed in 2016 because the officer who charged her did not appear in court nor did the prosecution have the file and there were no prosecution witnesses. In her malicious prosecution claim, Sing-Christian’s attorneys argued there was no reasonable or probable cause for WPC Bailey to charge her. They also argued that the police failed to investigate whether she adhered to FCB’s protocols, especially since she did not know the loan applicants.

It was also argued the charges against her affected her employment prospects, her family and social life as well as her psychological well-being.

The State defended the claim, insisting that fraud squad officers relied on statements from people who identified Sing-Christian by name and by the bank, which reported fraudulent activity after someone using a false job letter collected a cheque. The State also denied WPC Bailey deliberately missed court but had only failed to appear when she was in another court, on vacation or sick leave or on special assignment.

Sing-Christian gave evidence of the process for approving loans at the bank, and even if she, as the interviewing officer, failed to detect a fraudulent document, the recommending officer – a supervisor – or the approving officer -who holds a managerial post – would detect it.

She also maintained it was not her duty to ensure the documents were authentic but that the required documents were submitted in the application.

In his ruling, Rahim pointed out that at the start of the trial, he pointed out that the defence appeared to be relying on caution statements from some of the alleged loan applicants who were also charged with related offences. He said he was assured there was “other evidence” that formed the basis for the charges against Sing-Christian.

“However, having seen the other evidence it is abundantly clear that the position remained the same.”

As he analysed the evidence, he said he found that Bailey could not have had an honest belief she had enough evidence to charge Sing-Christian. He also said the laying of the charges was unreasonable.

“Of course, the refusal of the defendant to examine this issue with some measure of scrutiny from the time the issue was brought to its attention and the insistence on a trial in the face of an overwhelming paucity or more aptly, absence of evidence to charge the claimant has resulted in the waste of judicial time and resources in trying the issue of reasonable and probable cause.”

He also found there was malice on the officer’s part.

“It was pellucid to Bailey that she had absolutely no evidence that could support a charge…Her actions, therefore, were akin to an extreme abuse of power.”

He said she ignored the law and laid the charges.

“This, in the court’s view, is a classic demonstration of a case where malice should be inferred from the absence of reasonable and probable cause.”

Although he found the arrest was lawful, despite the officer having no reasonable cause to lay the charges, Sing-Christian’s detention for 14 hours was unlawful.

In assessing how much compensation she should receive, Rahim said, “An allegation such as the one made against the claimant in this case is bound to affect her reputation in a significant way. She was charged with fraud at an institution whose reputation is itself based on trust and confidence, and her alleged actions appeared in the newspaper for all of Trinidad and Tobago to see.

“This would have no doubt resulted in significant damage…”

He also said the case was a “fitting one” for exemplary damages because the police knew there was no evidence to lay the charge other than statements given by two men who were complicit and also charged.

He added,“ It follows that there is an inference that the claimant was charged so as to ensure that at least one person working at the bank took the fall as it were. This was a clear abuse of power and oppressive and arbitrary action by servants of the State.”