- Lawyer says the woman’s comment “obviously” is defamatory of Gonsalves
- Lawyer says he never advises a prime minister to just without considering ‘the context, the intent, public reaction’
- There is also the question of jurisdiction
A lawyer acting on behalf of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said he would not encourage the nation’s leader to sue the woman who said he “attacked” her in his office three decades years ago — when she was 15.
The woman, 47-year-old Miranda Wood, originally of Layou, who has been living in the United States since 1988, made the claim at Gonsalves’ annual town hall meeting with Vincentians in New York on Saturday.
Gonsalves’ lawyer, Dominican Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan, suggested on radio on Monday that the woman was lying and was motivated by the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) and the prime minister’s political opponents.
“I find it odd that we have had over the past — forget the question of the tape and the voice –two allegations of sexual misconduct, none of which got anywhere,” Astaphan said on Boom FM.
In addition to her sexual assault allegation, Wood also asked Gonsalves why his deputy, Member of Parliament for Central Leeward, Louis Straker, had not presented to the nation proof that he had renounced his U.S. citizenship.
The laws of SVG prohibit holders of some other citizenship from contesting elections to Parliament.
Astaphan said the question about Straker’s citizenship was “an obvious political question”.
Regarding the allegation of sexual assault Astaphan said:
“The timing, the location, just has a certain stink about it that just makes me believe that that was a plant. Because that has been part of the NDP strategy for over 15 years now, to paint the prime minister in a very bad light.”
He said such efforts may not come directly out of the NDP camp but is part of the overall scenario that the NDP has been pushing for a long time.
“As you know with the last situation with the audio, information has now become public that representatives of the NDP was instrumental in setting up the so-called sting operation that led to the making of the thing,” Astaphan said in an apparent reference to sex tapes that were making the round during the campaign for December’s general election.
He said that the two previous occasions when there were similar accusations against Gonsalves, they became “part of the NDP bandwagon”.
“So it is a convenient allegation to be made because it fits the agenda and it fits the platform of the NDP.”
In March 2008, a female police officer who was a member of Gonsalves’ security detail and lawyer a Canadian lawyer of Vincentian descent, accused Gonsalves of sexual assault.
The Director of Public Prosecution, Colin Williams, discontinued the cases brought against Gonsalves before trial because of insufficient evidence and his decisions were upheld on appeal.
Gonsalves has maintained his innocence in all three cases of alleged sexual assault.
Regarding how he would advise Gonsalves — who is also a lawyer — Astaphan said:
“I will have to look at it and should the prime minister and I have to discuss and come to the conclusion that this is jus another political thing to try to embarrass him, we may take a different approach. I don’t know what he would do.”
Astaphan said the woman’s comments “obviously” are defamation of the prime minister.
He said that as an experienced lawyer, he never advises a prime minister “to just suddenly sue without considering the context, the intent, public reaction and that sort of thing.
“I mean, this is a tired story, a very tired story. The NDP has made this part of the culture now for the last 15 years. Ralph may decide not to give any life to it by taking any form of legal action against it but just rubbishing it politically,” Astaphan said.
Another issue, he said, is the “whole question of where it took place, whether it makes any sense to do anything about it at this particular time…
“We could possibly say, if it was broadcast live on a radio station in St. Vincent and say Bing Joseph heard it and Bing Joseph was prepared to be a witness in the case, the legal action could take place here, but then the lady is probably resident in the United States. So these are all areas where we have all situations that will have to be discussed,” Astaphan said.
The town hall meeting was broadcast live via the internet and in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party’s radio station — Star FM.
“But I can tell you, my instincts, my gut feeling, the result of my many years of experience in advising prime ministers on these matters, if it fits a political line and it is a tired story, it’s just tiring, just leave it alone,” Astaphan said.
He said he would draw the line in the sand when a prime minister is accused of having a secret bank account somewhere.
But the sexual assault allegation “is part of a tired story and the vast majority of Vincentians will tell you that.
“Even those who support the NDP would tell you that. They would view this with great suspicion. Why should the prime minister take it on and give it life that it doesn’t deserve and it doesn’t have?” Astaphan said.
He said he has told prime ministers across the region whom he has represented that they have to pick their fights, because as politicians, “people will throw the kitchen, the sink, the toilet … behind you and everything. You cannot take up a considerable amount of your time and resources n court suing for any and everything”.
Leader of the Opposition and president of the NDP, Arnhim Eustace, on Monday he is “very concerned” that for the third time a woman has accused Gonsalves of sexual assault.