Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur is making it clear that he had absolutely nothing to do with any major tax write-offs for either the father of Barbados Labour Party (BLP) leader Mia Mottley, or for Barclays Bank.
The just-retired St Peter representative issued the clear-the-air statement today while joining with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart in calling on Mottley to give full account of both dubious financial transactions, which reportedly occurred as soon as he turned his back and left the country when the BLP last held office.
Addressing a Democratic Labour Party (DLP) meeting last night, Stuart dropped the bombshell news as questions continue to swirl around an alleged meeting between Mottley and Nigerian billionaire Benedict Peters.
He called on the BLP leader to give account of millions of dollars in tax waivers, which reportedly occurred under the last BLP administration, including a near half million-dollar write-off to her dad.
“Elliott Deighton Mottley had two judgments lodged against him for monies due and owing to the Income Tax Department upwards of $1 million. In 1998, I walked in the Registry one morning and everyone had frowns on their faces. They were saying that here it is that we have to pay our taxes but yet over $400,000 of that tax obligation was being written off by the Owen Arthur administration,” Stuart told the DLP meeting at Carlisle House car park, The City.
The Prime Minister however sought to distance his BLP predecessor from the dubious transaction, explaining that while Arthur had denied the request for the write-off, it was granted as soon as he left the country.
“My most diligent enquiries revealed that the matter had been raised with Arthur and he said under no condition could that write-off be given, but as soon as he turned his back and travelled overseas, it happened,” Stuart claimed, adding that “there was a certain stage in Arthur’s incumbency that he was afraid to go as far as St Vincent because he did not know what he would find when he returned”.
While calling on Mottley, who acted as prime minister in Arthur’s absence from the island, to reveal who was behind the decision, the DLP leader also charged that in 2002, during the merger of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) and Barclays, a circumvention by a member of the then Arthur Cabinet had cost the country $87 million in property transfer tax and stamp duty.
This morning Arthur said he was both disappointed and surprised to learn of the write-off for Sir Elliott, which he said should be criminally investigated since approval for such waivers needed to be given by both Cabinet and Parliament.
“I am in a position to say that Mottley’s father would have applied to me for a waiver of the tax and it was truly outrageous for Elliott Mottley, with a daughter in Cabinet, to apply to me to waive that kind of tax for him,” the former Prime Minister explained, while stressing that no approval was given by him.
Though stating that he did not know on whose authority the waiver was granted, Arthur suggested that there would have had to have been “a conspiracy to defraud the Treasury because a Minister of Finance said no to the tax waiver”.
The former prime minister, who served between 1994 and 2008, also said had he been aware of the write-off, the perpetrator would have been fired.
He also said he was equally unaware of the circumstances under which the Barclays waiver was granted, explaining that he had recused himself from that transaction due to the fact that he was shareholder in CIBC.
However, in support of another disclosure made by Stuart last night, Arthur confirmed that he was being enticed by current BLP leader Mia Mottley, as well as political strategist Hartley Henry and a prime minister from another Caribbean Community country to sign the Petrocaribe oil deal with Venezuela in exchange for campaign financing from then Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
“The purpose of the meeting was to get me to agree to go to Venezuela to meet Hugo Chavez to arrange to get campaign financing for the Barbados Labour Party on condition that I would change the position that I held as Prime Minister of Barbados on Petrocaribe,” Arthur said.
All CARICOM member states with the exception of Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados signed on to the Petrocaribe framework agreement back in June 2005, which allows countries to purchase oil on a delayed payment system.
Arthur, who held a press conference this morning at Barbados TODAY’s Manor Lodge, St Michael office, said there was a record of the meeting in question.
“The meeting was held at a house with Hartley Henry and the Prime Minister of the Caribbean country. Mr Stuart is in a position to speak to it because I called in the Venezuelan ambassador, so there is a record.
“I also briefed my deputy Dale Marshall. I refused to go because there was no circumstance under which I was going to agree to surrender Barbados’ foreign policy for a campaign contribution. So the Barbados Labour Party had to do without that funding that year,” said Arthur, who revealed that the offer was in the millions of dollars.