The Integrity Commission says there are grounds to begin an investigation into the activities of former investment and trade minister, Asot Michael, who stepped down last month amid speculation that he was among Caribbean politicians who had received bribes from a British investor.
In a statement, the Integrity Commission said the investigation would fall under the Integrity in Public Life Act and the Prevention of Corruption Act, both enacted in 2004.
Michael’s departure from the Cabinet in May was the second occasion within a seven-month period that he has had to forgo his ministerial position. Last October, he was arrested in London while on his way to a conference in France.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne subsequently removed him as the minister of tourism, economic development, investment and energy, but the 49-year-old rebounded to successfully contest the March 21 general election on behalf of the ruling Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP).
Michael, who was born in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, has denied the accusation that unfolded in a British High Court in May in a matter involving British financier Peter Virdee, whose telephone conversations with his business partner, Dieter Trutschler, in 2016, had been recorded by German authorities.
According to the transcript of the document revealed in the High Court, Virdee alleges that Michael had asked him for two million dollars, as well as to buy a car for his mother.
But in his resignation letter to Prime Minister Browne, the Parliamentary Representative of St Peter, said he had become “aware that recent media reports, emerging from Court proceedings in the United Kingdom, to which I am not a party, have caused anxiety in some quarters of our society and are being used by opposition political elements to seek to discredit me and the Government.
“I emphasize that I am not a party to the Court proceedings in the United Kingdom which have been reported in the media, nor have I been charged with any wrong doing. The media reports refer to recordings of conversations between persons other than myself, and I cannot be held responsible for their utterances”.
The Integrity Commission has acknowledged that it does not have the staff or the resources to mount the investigation into Michael noting that it has only one staff member who serves as the secretary to both the body and the Information Commissioner’s offices.
But the Integrity Commission chairman, Radford Hill said that the commission intends to investigate the matter and make a formal request to the government for additional resources.
Hill said that while the commission’s interaction with the public has been limited so far, in short order the commissioners plan to launch a public awareness campaign on the body’s existence, it’s role and mandate.
The commission is also encouraging people to comply with the Integrity in Public Life Act and promises to aggressively enforce compliance in filing declarations and other matters within the confines of their limited resources.