Open letter: Citizenship by investment agents holding public office in legal and judicial system

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Sandra C.A. Ferguson
Richmond Hill, St George’s, Grenada

March 31st, 2018

The President & Members
The Judicial and Legal Services Commission
Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court
2nd Floor, Heraldine Rock Building
P.O. Box 1093
The Waterfront, Castries
ST LUCIA

Esteemed President & Members,

Citizenship by Investment Agents Holding Public Office re Legal and Judicial System

Permit me to present my compliments and best wishes!

I take this opportunity to write to you as a follow-up to my letter of October 13th, 2017 in which I expressed great concern about “conflict of interests” in the context of Citizenship by Investment Agents holding certain sensitive public offices in our legal and judicial system and the apparent endorsement of these appointments by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. I specifically noted two examples from Grenada:-

• Sir Lawrence Joseph, appointed as the Attorney General of Grenada in October 2017

• A Grenadian attorney, who was on assignment as a temporary judge in Montserrat in late 2016.

I also expressed concern that a citizenship by investment agent was a former member of the Regional and Legal Judicial Services Commission (which chooses the judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice), and was simultaneously holding other influential decision-making and policy-shaping public offices – member of the Board of Governors of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and Ambassador to the OECS, CARICOM and the Association of Caribbean States.

Esteemed President and Members, I feel compelled return to this issue of citizenship by investment agents being holders of certain sensitive public offices in our legal and judicial system. Permit me to draw to your attention the murder of Maltese investigative journalist, Daphne Caruna Galizia on October 16th, 2017.

She was at the time part of the consortium of investigative journalists working on exposing the Panama Papers. Her murder brought into international spotlight a bank registered and operating in Malta, Pilatus Bank, a target of Ms Galizia’s investigation at the time of her death. She made allegations of money laundering against the bank and its facilitation of inappropriate payments to politically exposed persons in Malta, including high ranking officials of the Maltese government. Through the Citizenship by Investment Programme, there is a link between the Chairman/Owner and the Chief Executive Officer of the Pilatus Bank and the region which is under the jurisdiction of our regional court.

Last week, the chairman and owner of the Pilatus Bank, Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, an Iranian national, was arrested and indicted in the United States on charges of money laundering and evading US sanctions on Iran. Pilatus Bank also has a branch in London. Courtesy of Google and UK Companies House, I have noted that the Pilatus Bank is registered in the UK and Mr Ali Sadr has listed his nationality as Kittian, while the Chief Executive Officer of Pilatus Bank, Hamidreza Ghanbari, has listed his nationality as Dominican. Once again, our region has been brought into disrepute and our citizenship violated. It is uncomfortable co-incidence that the former member of the Regional Legal and Judicial Services Commission, diplomat and member of Board of Directors of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank was also a partner of Henley and Partners Residency and Citizenship Practice Group with responsibility for the programme in St Kitts-Nevis and Dominica. This therefore begs uncomfortable and inconvenient questions such as whether this individual played any role in Messrs Sadr and Ghanbari acquiring their citizenships of St Kitts-Nevis and Dominica respectively.

This incident is just the most recent of many incidents in which individuals having citizenship of our passport-selling islands have been linked to dubious or illegal activities. The fact that an individual intimately associated with this passport-selling scheme simultaneously held so many policy­making/decision-making positions can only be described, at very least, as a very unhealthy conflict of interests situation and, in my opinion, a disservice to the image of the RJLSC, the Caribbean Court of Justice and the region. This former member’s company is currently an authorized agent of the Antigua­ Barbuda CBI. His website notes, “He has acquired firsthand knowledge of the legal and regulatory framework and business climate of various Caribbean Jurisdictions through the roles he played… a member of the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission (RJLSC) that plays a key role in the Governance of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)… He was instrumental in the restructuring of the Caribbean Community in the role of Project Manager, and in reviewing the Governance structure of the Caribbean Court of Justice in a consultative role.” (my emphasis).

Pardon my skepticism, Esteemed Members, but when I note the frenzy and urgency in certain of the passport-selling islands to introduce the Caribbean Court of Justice, I really do wonder about the genuineness and sincerity of the motive. Is it about the real citizens or the “new, rich citizens”? And now, the situation is more complicated, even murky, with the recent exposure of the meddling in elections in some Caribbean countries by Strategic Communications Laboratory, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. What is also frightening are allegations that a certain ubiquitous CBI company may have also been involved.

Permit me to also draw to your attention the observations made by the Golding Report on the Citizenship by Investment Programme in a number of OECS countries (all emphases are my own):-

• The Commission is concerned about the way in which Citizenship by Investment or Economic Citizenship programmes are administered by some Member States. “Citizenship by Investment” is a misnomer. It is essentially a “citizenship for sale” programme… on the basis of a contribution that can be as low as US$100,000…

• The practice has developed without any regional agreement or protocol regarding the terms and conditions of the programmes, qualifications and restrictions or the need for prior consultations or sharing of information with other Member States who have the obligation under the CARICOM Treaty to accord the same rights to these “citizens” as to any other CARICOM national…”

• “The Commission was informed that the Heads of Government had mandated that all applications should be vetted by IMPACS and we have confirmed that such referrals, indeed, have been made. However, the granting state is not obliged to accept the advice of IMPACS and there is no mechanism for determining whether all applications are being so referred or only those about which the granting Member States may have concerns. Cases have emerged where persons granted citizenship under these programmes were later discovered to have fled other jurisdictions for alleged crimes. The issue is further compounded by the fact that some of these new citizens have been instantly issued diplomatic passports with the attendant immunities.”

• “We recognize that CIPs are of considerable economic value to some countries… However, the potential risks to the Community, especially in view of the sophistication of transnational crime, cannot be ignored and since all member countries are directly affected, they have a right to be assured that the appropriate safeguards are in place and closely monitored.”

Again, pardon me if I express my own biased and perhaps, irrelevant comment. Given the level of respect to the commitment to due diligence that has been shown by Heads of Passport Selling Countries to their fellow Heads of Government, do we the ordinary people of the region have good reason to be skeptical of their frenzied agenda for the introduction of the Caribbean Court of Justice when so many other fundamentals re the ordinary citizens’ access to justice at the lower levels remain unattended?

Meanwhile, reminiscent of the imperial “Massa of old”, a number of the region’s academics, legal luminaries and Chief Servants have climbed onto their lofty pedestals to berate us ordinary citizens for “holding on to imperial coat/court tails”, stopping just short of calling us “idiots” when they have not even read the bill that was presented or sought to appreciate the source of our concerns/objections. It does not augur well for our region when those who ought to speak truth to power bury their heads in the sand.

Esteemed President and Members, I thank you for the opportunity to again reiterate my concerns about citizenship by investment agents holding office in our legal and judicial system, which impinges on citizens’ confidence in/the image of our regional institutions of governance. I implore you to use your influence and good offices to protect the integrity of our region and its legal and judicial system.

Permit me to also reiterate my suggestion that there be greater transparency in the procedures pertaining to appointments by the JLSC, in the selection of members of the RJLSC and related matters – that in the process there be a step which would publicize the nominations and allow for public vetting and follow-up due diligence to inform the final decisions made by the responsible body.

Respectfully yours,

Sandra C.A. Ferguson

c.c.
Governor, Eastern Caribbean Central Bank
Director-General, Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States
Regional Judicial Legal Services Commission Secretariat
Commission to Review Jamaica’s Relations within CARICOM and the CARIFORUM Frameworks
JURIST Project

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