By Clint Lowe
With contributions from Lizzy in Dominica
and J.A. Scotland in the UK
Several weeks ago we decided to undertake what appeared at the time to be a monumental task; investigating the source(s) of what has been rumoured to be significant wealth quietly amassed over the years by Dominica's sitting prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit. It was, and remains a challenging task trying to track down Mr Skerrit's finances, but we believe we have uncovered what may be part of the puzzle.
Over the years, millions of dollars have been collected from the sale of Dominica's diplomatic passports and its citizenship by the Roosevelt Skerrit government, with untold amounts having never been deposited in the National Treasury. Crooks and criminals the world over possess our passports and have paid for them but Mr Skerrit refuses to give an accounting of all the proceeds. Dominicans, by and large, appear not to be taking this seriously, but we do, so we have decided to undertake this mission in an effort to expose what some refuse to accept.
We pause here to note that the information being revealed in this article is readily available and in the public domain, albeit hidden in plain sight. For the intrepid researcher, it can be easily accessed on official websites and at archives open to the general public; you just have to know how to find it and where.
Mr Skerrit has long been rumoured to be a very wealthy man. His rumoured holdings include villas, land deals, foreign real estate holdings, and private bank accounts. In attempting to track down some of these rumours, we had to draw on our resources and contacts in the Caribbean, North America and Europe. Obtaining information in Dominica proved to be extremely difficult; we encountered resistance everywhere we turned. Loyalists of Mr Skerrit populate every institution where we believe the information exists; in some cases access was denied while in others, there were no records to review. Furthermore, we suspect that, if the rumours were true, Mr Skerrit most likely would retain these assets through proxies, "under other people's names" in local terminology, which is a popular belief among Dominicans in the first place.
Mr Skerrit is not known to have been a proprietor of any business ventures in and out of Dominica prior to entering politics, so the customary migration of wealthy individuals looking for new adventure or different things to do with their time into the world of politics does not apply to him. That is especially true when considering Mr Skerrit's background and age at which he entered the political arena; folklore has it that when he was tapped to enter politics, his sole possession was a bicycle.
To zero in on the financial trail, we began by focusing on close associates of Mr Skerrit, the thinking being that, should he be using proxies, he would most likely utilize the services of individuals he trusts the most. One individual who immediately jumped to the fore is the mother of Mr Skerrit's first child, Ms Yvette Laurent. In addition to that, Ms Laurent is known to be a very close and trusted confidante of Mr Skerrit.
Ms Laurent's biography on the professional website LinkedIn states that she was a math and social studies teacher at the San Sauveur Primary School. Her tenure there lasted a mere eight months, from September 1996 to April 1997. From there she moved on to take up two positions; as an assistant manager for Caribbean Offshore Services, and as a secretary at Alick Lawrence's chambers. Both positions, held at the same time, in the same office, under two different company names, lasted over seven years. In December 2004, Ms Laurent states on her profile that her employment at these two entities came to an end and, in January 2005, she established her own offshore business services outfit, International Offshore Services Company Ltd.
Coincidentally, December 2004 also happens to be the same month Mr Skerrit is reported to have hand-delivered two diplomatic passports to Susan Olde for a reputed sum of US$400,000. Hard evidence supporting that rumour has yet to be found but neither have the claims been challenged by Mr Skerrit, which leads us to draw all kinds of conclusions. An attempt to bring it up in parliament was blocked. Speculation is that this money, after having been transferred through multiple bank accounts at just as many financial institutions, in an apparent effort to mask its purpose and origin, ended up at a non-profit company called "Citizens for a Better Dominica", which allegedly listed Mr Skerrit as a signatory. When word of the backdoor dealings broke, it is said that Mr Skerrit's name was removed and apparently replaced by that of Ms Laurent. Was this also a coincidence? Or was that Ms Laurent's first solo foray into the world of nebulous shady deals, all of which appear to have Mr Skerrit's fingerprints all over?
Given this background to work with, we believed that there may be other similar instances involving Ms Laurent that are yet to be discovered. We started our investigation in Dominica, attempting to secure data relevant to this story. We were stymied at every turn, but some leads indicated that we should expand our investigation overseas, something we already had intentions to do. Those intentions emanated from a recommendation on Ms Laurent's Linked In profile. On there, she has a recommendation from a Ukrainian living in Canada. That recommendation further pushed us to explore possible business deals overseas. In the United Kingdom we struck gold.
Yvette Laurent's Linked In profile
We have previously wondered aloud whether officials in the United Kingdom may be privy to Mr Skerrit's dealings. Our concern was borne out of his recent decision to push Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal, at 60 years old, a Briton by every definition of the word save for the first two years of her life, which were spent in Dominica, for the post of Commonwealth secretary general. Mr Skerrit, if you recall, presented the Baroness as thoroughly Dominican, even though the woman, notwithstanding the fact that she was born in Dominica and is highly qualified and accomplished in her own right, does not qualify as "Dominican" if the spirit of the rules for election of a CSG were followed (an English person cannot sit as head of the Commonwealth of Nations).
In spite of that, Mr Skerrit pursued this now victorious but fallacious course and, in the process, laid the entire concept of regional integration, policy, and cohesiveness in the wider OECS and CARICOM, on the floor of the Caribbean Sea, severely wounded and hemorrhaging. Caribbean governments must now decide how to and whether they must continue with this whole integration charade or myth. And to what end, really. Why would Mr Skerrit insult his fellow Caribbean leaders in such a blatant manner if there was not something in it for him? Self-preservation, perhaps? Time will tell. We've concluded that this entire CSG election fiasco was orchestrated in London, with Mr Skerrit the puppet and the British, the puppeteers.
Pursuing leads in the United Kingdom, we've discovered that Ms Laurent, residing in Dominica, currently sits on and in some cases once sat on the boards of at least nine British companies, all of which appear to be front companies, not unlike Citizens for a Better Dominica. In some instances, Ms Laurent is listed as being the sole owner of all the shares while, in others, she is listed as the sole operating director and, on others, she was both the sole owner and director for certain periods of time in the life of the corresponding company. All companies in Britain are required to file financial statements with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), England's tax collection agency.
We were unable to get financial information from most, so far, but we were able to get balance sheets from the filings of a few. The balance sheets reveal vast amounts of money coming into and leaving these shell companies throughout the years they were operational for which they filed. Nowhere did any of those companies list any physical asset; all declared assets are cash. Furthermore, the registered addresses of these companies are all drop locations, mail drops, where paperwork addressed to each could be delivered. We've delved into three companies where we were able to obtain copies of the balance sheets that they filed to HMRC; take a look.
Biomedical Reproductive Research Limited
Address: Unit 3 Garfield Mews, Garfield Road, London SW11 5GZ
Biomedical Reproductive Research was formed on April 15, 2009, Company No 06878205, and as far as we are aware, remains active. The company was formed with a share capital of 1,000 shares, each valued at £1.00. It listed its sole shareholder as Ms Yvette Laurent residing at 3 Beau Bois, Castle Comfort, Roseau. She is also listed as its sole operating director, her term lasting between April 15, 2009, and January 16, 2013.
Biomedical Reproductive Research Company Registration
According to official records, Ms Laurent retained ownership of her shares for three years, until April 16, 2012, at which point they were transferred to Ms Andra Augustine, an employee in Alick Lawrence's law office. However, Ms Laurent continued in her role as sole operating director, guiding the company for another nine months, eventually resigning the position on January 16, 2013, and passing on to Ms Augustine.
Resignation and Appointment records
From the company's own tax filings, we were able to obtain balance sheets covering six years of tax returns. The years we got are for FY Ending (FYe) 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. The assets reported to HMRC for each fiscal year are as follows;
FYe 2010: £50,209 or EC$206,359
FYe 2011: £114,954 or EC$472,461
FYe 2012: £226,718 or EC$931,811
FYe 2013: £304,142 or EC$1,250,024
FYe 2014: £109,870 or EC$451,566
FYe 2015: £128,617 or EC$528,616
Currency rate: £1.00 = $4.11 EC
Summary of Balance Sheets
As you can see from these records, the largest amount of cash passing through Biomedical Reproductive under Ms Laurent's stewardship in any given year was EC$931,811, in 2012. Under Ms Augustine's tenure, EC$1,250,024 in 2013 was the high mark. We have to wonder; where did all this money come from? How did Ms Laurent and Ms Augustine come in possession of such large amounts of cash in such a short period of time?
At the point Ms Augustine took over ownership, did she compensate Ms Laurent for these assets? We would like to know, although we do not believe answers to these questions will be forthcoming. How did a secretary in Alick Lawrence's office come into possession of that amount of money? If it doesn't belong to her, who does it belong to?
Derby Lake Limited
Address: Suite 401, 302 Regent Street, London W1B 3HH
The story of Derby Lake is identical to the previous company. This company was formed on February 13, 2007, Company No 06100816, but was dissolved on August 7, 2012. Unlike Biomedical Reproductive Research, Derby Lake was initially formed with a share capital of 100 at £1 per share, but was later increased by 900 to 1,000 shares on a form that appears to have been signed by Alick Lawrence, for and behalf of its sole director, a company called Corporate Invest, Inc.
Corporate Invest, Inc is also listed as the sole owner of all of the shares in Derby Lake Ltd. The registered corporate address of the company, as stated on official UK tax documents, is Apartment 3, Beau Bois, Castle Comfort, Dominica. This is the home address of Ms Laurent. It would be safe therefore to say that Ms Laurent is the owner of all the shares in Derby Lake Ltd, but conceals her ownership of those shares under a dummy company in Dominica called Corporate Invest, Inc.
Derby Lake Company Registration
On May 28, 2009, Ms Laurent, in her role as director of Corporate Invest Inc, filed paperwork removing Corporate Invest as the director of Derby Lake and simultaneously installed herself as Derby Lake's sole director. She retained these dual positions, both director and owner, through to its dissolution on August 12, 2012.
Transfer of Directorship
We were able to obtain the balance sheets for Derby Lake covering four years; 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. The numbers are staggering.
FYe 2008: £482,567 or EC$1,983,350
FYe 2009: £749,960 or EC$3,082,335
FYe 2010: £4,868,775 or EC$20,010,665
FYe 2011: £845,536 or EC$3,475,153
Currency Rate: £1.00 = $4.11 EC
Summary of Balance Sheets filed with HMRC
Here too you can see from these records vast amounts of cash being passed through Derby Lake; 2010 appears to have been a very lucrative year for Ms Laurent and the company, reporting EC$20,010,665 on their official tax filings.
In reviewing these documents, we were stunned by the volume of monies that were being handled by Ms Laurent. We would like to know where they all originated. Speculation is, given Ms Laurent's dubious history with Citizens for a Better Dominica, the nature and origin of its finances, it would not be a stretch to presume that the monies which coursed through the accounts of Derby Lake could have been the illicit proceeds of a similar scheme, the sale of Dominica's passports and its citizenship. If they aren't, then Ms Laurent should come clean and disclose to the Dominican public how she has managed to accumulate such vast amounts of money as the proprietor of a one-person business headquartered in her living room.
On April 4, 2012, Ms Laurent filed paperwork to dissolve Derby Lake Ltd. She resigned as the company's director nine days later. The whereabouts of its assets remain a mystery.
Resignation and Dissolution
Berkley Consulting Limited
Address: Suite 401, 302 Regent Street, London W1B 3HH
This company, No 05206276, was incorporated on August 16, 2004, with a share capital of 100 shares, each with a value of £1. The share capital was increased to 1,000 on September 1, 2005. The company was in existence for eight years; it was dissolved on October 16, 2012.
Unlike the previous two companies profiled above, Berkley's directors through most of its years were not native-born Dominicans. Its directors included German and British citizens, but in its waning days, Ms Andra Augustine, a secretary in Alick Lawrence's offices was appointed director. Her appointment took effect on January 5, 2012. We do not see any evidence of Ms Laurent's involvement in this company.
Registration and Appointments
Berkley Consulting lists as its sole shareholder a company called Global Invest Ltd. The registered corporate address of Global Invest is Nancy Whitaker House, 7 Old Street, Roseau, Dominica, the law offices of Alick Lawrence, where Ms Augustine is employed.
Shareholder Global Invest Ltd
We reviewed the filings for Berkley and, there too, we discovered some truly mind-blowing numbers. We were able to obtain records for seven years; 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
FYe 2005: £19,928 or EC$81,904
FYe 2006: £506,710 or EC$2,082,578
FYe 2007: £1,328,608 or EC$5,460,579
FYe 2008: £7,797,281 or EC$32,046,825
FYe 2009: £7,691,148 or EC$31,610,619
FYe 2010: £5,412,766 or EC$22,246,469
FYe 2011: £14,116 or EC$58,017
Currency Rate: £1.00 = $4.11 EC
Balance Sheets 2005 - 2008
Balance Sheets 2009 - 2011
Again, we see vast amounts of cash being passed through this company like the other two. A record EC$32,046,825 was reported in 2008, making this the largest amount of assets declared in a single year of the three companies.
On June 21, 2012, Ms Augustine as director filed for dissolution of Berkley Consulting. The company was finally dissolved on October 16, 2012.
Dissolution of Berkley Consulting
To further ensure the accuracy of the dates in question, we attempted to locate any record of Ms Laurent and Ms Augustine having owned or managed foreign companies prior to 2004; we could not find any. Nor could we find any company tied to Global Invest Ltd before then as well. It is interesting that this flurry of activity commenced after the swearing in of Roosevelt Skerrit as prime minister in January 2004. Coincidence? You decide.
What we have deduced from this investigation is that Mr Skerrit's close associates, Ms Laurent, Ms Augustine and Mr Lawrence, have sat atop an operation that, from all appearances, may be dubious and potentially criminal. How did these three persons get in a position to own and control such vast amounts of cash? Nothing in their histories suggests that they are independently wealthy, nor have they been known to possess assets, with the exception of what has been revealed herein, valued in the millions of dollars. So what accounts for all of this money?
The nature of the companies we've looked at bear a remarkable resemblance to similar companies set up by crime syndicates for the express purpose of illegally concealing assets from governments as well as companies designed to launder money illicitly gained. Is that what we're looking at? We do not know, but the old saying "if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck" comes to mind.
Roosevelt Skerrit, Dominica's prime minister has a long, storied history with international crooks and criminals. His relationship with Ng Lap Seng, the Chinese billionaire currently under house arrest and electronic monitoring in New York on charges of bribing former United Nations officials as well as tax evasion and lying to US federal authorities, dates back a decade. That case is still being put together by the FBI and the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
A report in the Wall Street Journal in November 2015 indicated that a source revealed to the paper that the US Attorney was in consultations with the US State Department regarding diplomatic immunity issues. That can mean one of two things: either someone being investigated but not arrested possesses diplomatic immunity and law enforcement is looking for ways to bring their suspect before the courts. Or, it could also mean that someone already in custody may be exerting diplomatic privileges. It is far more likely that the first scenario may be the issue; had it been the second, the chances are they would have been released as a result of the immunity.
It is well known that Mr Skerrit has pursued a profitable business where Dominica's passports, both regular and diplomatic, are sold to nefarious individuals. Francesco Corallo, an Italian gaming magnate who was once wanted by Interpol, the international police agency, for "organized and transnational crime", is one such individual. Mr Corallo was given a diplomatic assignment, complete with passport (and immunity), and appointed by Mr Skerrit to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in June 2011. The appointment was subsequently rejected by the Italian government.
There's the case of Mr Serge Roger de Thibault de Boesinghe, appointed as Dominica's ambassador to Ireland in 2004. Mr de Boesinghe was a member of a Belgian neo-Nazi organization. He was also a criminal, having been arrested and prosecuted in 1980 by Belgian police as the ringleader of a bank robbery crew.
And in the latest embodiment of his passport selling business, former Nigerian petroleum resources minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, under investigation in the United Kingdom and Nigeria for misappropriating billions of dollars, accused by Nigeria's Central Bank governor for having a hand in the disappearance of some $20 billion dollars from the accounts of the country's National Petroleum Company, and found to have stashed away hundreds of millions of dollars in her home, has turned up with a Dominica diplomatic passport and an official government of Dominica job appointment.
Investigators suspect that Ms Alison-Madueke secured that passport in an effort to escape prosecution by using diplomatic immunity. Mr Skerrit, evidently caught with his trousers down, quickly issued a statement attempting to disassociate himself, but that would not fool anyone but his hardened supporters. In his statement, Mr Skerrit said that he had met Ms Alison-Madueke on a "stop-over" in London in early May 2015, and that he had a due diligence investigation done on her.
But what Mr Skerrit fails to realize is that his attempt at escape from this debacle is deeply flawed; Ms Alison-Madueke was issued her diplomatic passport by the third week in the same month that he supposedly first met her, so exactly what kind of due diligence was done in such a short period of time? Furthermore, a basic internet search would have revealed a vast amount of incriminating data on Ms Alison-Madueke, information that should have rendered her persona non grata within the ranks of Dominica's diplomatic corps.
But Mr Skerrit is apparently not an individual predisposed to avoid the mere whiff of corruption, let alone full-bore manifestations of it, so an individual like Ms Alison-Madueke being in possession of our diplomatic passport comes as no surprise.
We have been observing Mr Skerrit for quite some time and, to be honest, we put nothing past him. We believe that the truth lies somewhere in here; that Mr Skerrit may have either known of (through intermediaries), or knew personally Ms Alison-Madueke. It is entirely possible that either he or one of his advisers sought her out and offered her a way out of her legal issues and that the "stop-over" meeting in London may have been a time to finalize whatever arrangements were concocted; to "seal the deal", if you will. Agreements done, her passport was issued days later.
The only other option to this is that Ms Alison-Madueke was privy to Dominica's Swiss cheese passport business and sought out Mr Skerrit and, having made contact, set up the sequence of events that landed her the diplomatic passport and position. Either way, Mr Skerrit clearly looked the other way in regards to Ms Alison-Madueke's alleged crimes. Mr Skerrit cannot absolve himself of this; for a man known to constantly boast of his diplomatic prowess, of being on the world stage and accusing his detractors of being novices, Mr Skerrit cannot now come and admit that he's a novice himself. It is not going to work.
Well it will, for his diehard supporters, because to them there is nothing Mr Skerrit can do that will ever be determined to be wrong, let alone criminal. That close associates of Mr Skerrit show up in circumstances that can be best described as suspicious, apparently owning assets that are significantly greater than what their legitimate estimated value ought to be, is not surprising. Notwithstanding the reluctance of our fellow citizens to hold Mr Skerrit and his government accountable, we will continue to pursue all leads that will allow us to expose the corruption of his government. We do this for country, nothing else.
Note: We have focused on the large amounts of cash that have passed through these companies in each given year. We have decided not to total the numbers but rather highlight the year with the largest volume in order that you, the reader, will get a better grasp of the fluctuations in the movement of money throughout the years.
The pictures presented here are scanned images of the actual documents. There are hundreds of pages of information and we cannot display most, so we have limited what's presented to what is directly referenced in this article. Other pieces of documents not shown include change of address forms, annual return updates, etc, all of which are instrumental in the operation of the companies themselves, but are not germane to the focus of this article.