A day after rating agency Standard & Poor’s sunk this country’s creditworthiness into default territory, Government today declared that the Donville Inniss money laundering scandal has tarnished Barbados’ investment and international business reputation.
Some investors were already pondering whether to remain here in the wake of the former business minister’s indictment by a United States grand jury on conspiracy to launder US$36,000 in bribes, Attorney General Dale Marshall told a news briefing at Government Headquarters.
“In the last few days, I can tell you that the international community has already begun to turn its scope on Barbados and questioning whether in fact we are meeting the kinds of standards that the international arena expects of us. The reputation of Barbados has now taken a sufficiently large hit that they have to consider whether to move their business ventures somewhere else,” Marshall said.
He told journalists the court case had cast a pall over the island’s investment landscape, noting that while it was uncomfortable for the Government to speak about the matter, his administration could not sweep that or the other issues under the proverbial carpet.
“This event is without precedent in the history of Barbados. We have never had a person who was involved in public life to this extent being brought before our court, and so far as we are aware, we have never had an individual in public life brought before any other jurisdictions’ courts,” the Attorney General said.
And Marshall issued a sobering reminder to any former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) parliamentarians who might have been involved in corruption that he was coming to get them.
“I have committed on the floor of Parliament to strain every sinew to pursue wrongdoers and wrongdoings in the last administration. We are now into our third month of Government and daily – and by daily I even include today – we are uncovering instances where decisions were made by … Central Government, by state-owned enterprises, directions given by ministers which defy common sense and can point us to only one possible conclusion: that personal gain was involved,” he disclosed.
He also revealed that at least one person had come forward to provide information on corruption under the Freundel Stuart administration in response to a recent call by Prime Minister Mia Mottley for whistle-blowers to come forward.
“One person has contacted me and I expect to meet with them very shortly. I don’t know if more people are going to come forward. Part of the difficulty is the exposure that a so-called whistle-blower faces. We don’t have a statutory regime which says, ‘if you squeal, I will protect you’. That is something that requires being protected by statute,” he stated, adding that whoever provides the information must be willing to back it up in court.
“It’s no point telling me that so and so did this or I paid a bribe to so and so, but I can’t use that information in a court of law. You have to be prepared . . . to come to court and say, ‘I paid a bribe to John Browne [a pseudonym]. I paid a bribe to Inez, whoever’. And if you are not willing to do that, then it doesn’t quite take us where we need to be,” Marshall contended.
The administration’s chief legal advisor did not indicate whether whistle-blower protection legislation would be added to the legislative menu.
But he said the public would be given the opportunity to speak on the Integrity in Public Life Bill during a hearing of an 11-member parliamentary select committee on August 27 at 1.30 p.m.
The hearing is to be broadcast ‘live’ on the state-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation television and streamed via Parliament’s website and on Facebook.
“We anticipate that Barbadians will come out and participate robustly, and in fact I would like to indicate to the public that this gives them an opportunity to speak frankly in an open environment on the very burning issue of corruption in public life in Barbados,” he said.
In a three-count Grand Jury indictment, US federal prosecutors contend that Inniss leveraged his position as Minister of Industry in August 2015 and April 2016 to take about US $36,000 in bribes from a “Bermuda-owned insurance company based in Barbados” in violation of Barbadian anti-corruption law, and to launder that money through a New York dental company that was controlled by a fellow Tampa, Florida resident.
The indictment, filed on March 15, 2018 in the US District Court of the Eastern District of New York, alleged that the then Chief Executive Officer, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of the insurance firm, since identified as the Insurance Corporation of Barbados (ICBL), agreed to pay bribes to Inniss.
In return, he agreed to use his office to press the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC), a state-owned enterprise under his ministerial portfolio, into renewing insurance contracts with ICBL, whose major shareholder is Bermudian insurer BF&M Limited.
The court document also claimed that the three insurance executives conspired to pay bribes to Inniss through a US bank account in the name of the New York dental company, which had no actual business with the Barbados insurer.
“The Barbados company employees, including Barbados company executives 1, 2 and 3, did not disclose to the Bermuda company that the payments were for the benefit of a Barbadian Government official and instead falsely claimed that the payments were for ‘consulting services,’” the Grand Jury alleged.