Regional influence of citizenship firms questioned

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Sandra Ferguson

ST GEORGE’S, Grenada — In an open letter to the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC), Grenadian community activist Sandra Ferguson has questioned citizenship by investment (CBI) agents holding certain sensitive public offices in Caribbean legal and judicial systems and the apparent endorsement of these appointments by the JLSC of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

She specifically noted two examples from Grenada: Sir Lawrence Joseph, appointed as the attorney general of Grenada in October 2017 and a Grenadian attorney, who was on assignment as a temporary judge in Montserrat in late 2016.

Ferguson also expressed concern that a CBI agent, Wendell Lawrence, was a former member of the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission (RJLSC) (which chooses the judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice), and was simultaneously holding other influential decision-making and policy-shaping public offices as a member of the board of governors of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and ambassador to the OECS, CARICOM and the Association of Caribbean States.

She also highlighted the link between an advisory firm that plays a major role in promoting the CBI programs run by Grenada and Saint Lucia, and also was similarly involved in the corresponding program in St Kitts and Nevis, and the issue of St Kitts and Nevis passports to an Iranian national arrested last month for evading US economic sanctions.

Henley & Partners reportedly secured two St Kitts and Nevis passports for Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, chairman of Malta-based Pilatus Bank, who was arrested on March 19, 2018, for his alleged involvement in a scheme to evade US economic sanctions against Iran, to defraud the United States, and to commit money laundering and bank fraud.

Ferguson noted that Pilatus Bank is registered in the UK, with Sadr listing his nationality as Kittitian, while the chief executive officer of the 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 & Partners Residency and Citizenship Practice Group with responsibility for the programme in St Kitts and 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 and Nevis and Dominica respectively,” she said.

“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,” Ferguson continued.

According to Ferguson, the situation is more complicated, even murky, with the recent exposure of the meddling in elections in some Caribbean countries by Strategic Communications Laboratory (SCL), the parent company of Cambridge Analytica.

She highlighted the relationship between Dr Christian Kalin, the chairman of Henley & Partners, and the now notorious Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica, as reported by The Spectator magazine.

SCL worked on a successful campaign to win the 2010 general election in St Kitts and Nevis, where Henley had a vested interest in its CBI program. There, SCL engaged in the dirty tricks that Nix was caught bragging about to undercover reporters in and exposé by Britain’s Channel 4.

One of the dirty tricks was a sting operation in St Kitts and Nevis, where SCL filmed the then opposition leader, Lindsay Grant, being offered a bribe by an undercover operative posing as a real-estate investor.

The same year, SCL and Kalin worked together on another election campaign in St Vincent and the Grenadines. There, they worked with Arnhim Eustace, then leader of the opposition. SCL billed Eustace’s New Democratic Party (NDP) more than $4 million, including $100,000 for ‘counter operations’.

In emails seen by The Spectator, Kalin describes to Eustace what “we could do with you once you are in government”. Contrary to Henley’s claim that it “does not get involved in political campaigns”, Kalin even went on to suggest what the candidate might say in his campaign.

Ferguson also drew attention the observations made by the Golding Report on the CBI programs in a number of Organisation of Easter Caribbean States (OECS) countries, as previously reported by Caribbean News Now, specifically:

• The Commission was 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.”

Ferguson asked if the ordinary people of the region have good reason to be skeptical of what she described as the “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.

She concluded by urging the president and members of the JLSC to use their influence and good offices to protect the integrity of the region and its legal and judicial systems.

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