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St Lucia PM to investigate investigation

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A-C-STLFollowing the public release of documents filed in US federal court in the Southern District of Florida outlining an investigation initiated by the previous administration in Saint Lucia into alleged corruption associated with the Hewanorra International Airport (HIA) Redevelopment Project in 2008/9, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, who is also named in the documents, said that he has been unable to find the records in question in government files and will therefore launch an internal investigation.

 

In a letter dated December 16, 2015, to Andrew Finkelman, a trial attorney with the US Department of Justice Criminal Division, Office of International Affairs, in Washington DC, and filed in federal court by the US Attorney Southern District of Florida, the then attorney general of Saint Lucia named two “key persons of interest” in an investigation into corruption in relation to the proposed US$157 million airport redevelopment project.

 

One of the named key persons of interest is Guy Joseph, Saint Lucia’s minister for economic development, housing, urban renewal, transport and civil aviation, and the other is Antonio Assenza, a Florida businessman and the majority owner of a local company Asphalt & Mining (St Lucia) Company Limited (A&MSL), which was one of three bidders for the airport contract.

 

As part of the investigation in this regard, authorities in Saint Lucia are seeking US assistance in obtaining subscriber information, billing invoices, and call details for a specified AT&T phone number in relation to numerous calls made by local officials to the shareholders of A&MSL, Assenza and Andre Edgar, a Saint Lucia businessman.

 

Specifically, ministers Joseph, Allen Chastanet [now prime minister] and Sean Matthew, then CEO of the Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority (SLASPA), telephoned the shareholders of A&MSL, on no fewer than 130 occasions between November 1, 2008, and February 12, 2009, the date of the issue of the request for proposals in relation to the airport project by SLASPA.

The same three persons telephoned the same two shareholders between February 13, 2009, and April 5, 2009, the day prior to the receipt of the bidders’ proposals, on 79 occasions.

 

“No calls were found to be made to either of the other two bidders, Ashtrom and IMTC who responded to the HIA request for proposals on April 6, 2009,” the attorney general pointed out.

In addition to phone records, Saint Lucia is also seeking US assistance in accessing emails exchanged between the parties involved though US-based providers.

 

Joseph said last month that he is not worried about the investigation into his alleged involvement.

 

“I’m not worried. If there’s an investigation, I welcome the investigation,” Joseph said at a press briefing.

 

Meanwhile, the publication of the documents in question, especially the detailed 34-page letter written by the Saint Lucia attorney general, has been described by elements within the ruling political sphere and local media as “fake news”, notwithstanding that the documents, which speak for themselves, were filed as recently as late August of this year by the US Department of Justice, hardly an agency noted for disseminating so-called fake news.

 

In fact, the label of “fake news”, as popularized by US President Donald Trump, now seems to be the go-to response of anyone that may have something to hide. #something2hide #fakenews

 

A case in point is a letter to the editor appearing in local media entitled “Living in denial”, in which Oswald Augustin, currently the general secretary of the ruling United Workers Party (UWP), attempted to dismiss the revelations in the recently released documents as “fake news”.

 

It should therefore come as no surprise that Augustin is himself named in the attorney general’s summary of the alleged corruption.

 

According to Sean Matthew, then CEO of SLASPA, “The evaluation [of the HIA request for proposals (RFP)] was completed by end of July and on August 21 there was a presentation to Cabinet that gave the results of the RFP. However, when I prepare and issue a report with recommendations to Council members, a copy also goes to the minister usually a few days before the meeting. Also, Mr Oswald Augustin was the deputy chairman of the UWP and information was always available to him. He has a business relationship with Mr Allan Chastanet and his father.”

 

A US government official familiar with the ongoing investigations by federal law enforcement agencies, on being asked to comment on the Augustin letter, wondered who specifically was living in denial.

 

“It seems to me that Mr Augustin has in effect raised his hand and said to the US Justice Department, ‘Hey, don’t forget about me… here I am,’” he said.

 

One specific publication in Saint Lucia also seems to be having difficulty in deciding where it stands, sometimes in the same issue, on one hand acting as UWP apologists with the same predictable “fake news” mantra and, on the other, describing all politicians as cockroaches: “Politicians are not caterpillars; they are demonstrably more closely related to cockroaches. 

 

And nature never intended cockroaches at any point to metamorphose into butterflies. For all time, cockroaches will be cockroaches!”

 

As local commentator Alvin Charles pointed out in the same publication: “CARICOM territories … lack vibrant, relatively objective media to help keep elected officials honest.”



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