Oswald Skippings (L) and Derek Taylor
By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands -- In the presence of some 150 people, including 71 party delegates at the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) convention in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) last month, ousted leader Derek Taylor claimed that, while he was chief minister (1995-2003), the then British governor asked him to fire his opponent for the party leadership Oswald Skippings as a government minister.
According to Taylor, British officials told him that Skippings had taken a bribe from Warren Johnson, a convicted US fraudster, allegedly comprising shares in a publicly listed company called Ice Ban that was said to be traded on the Bermuda Stock Exchange.
However, Taylor declined to fire Skippings as requested by Britain, apparently because of his (Skippings’) influence in the party. Instead, Taylor reportedly alerted Skippings to sell his shares in Ice Ban because of Johnson’s then unpublished legal problems, which would have amounted to insider trading, leading some local observers to question Taylor’s much touted integrity.
Taylor’s refusal to accede to the governor’s request to fire Skippings sheds additional light on the events of 2003, when the PDM lost the government to the Progressive National Party (PNP) as a result of a controversial court ruling and subsequent by-election.
At the time, the governor had a choice between calling new general elections in the TCI, which would have favoured the PDM by allowing Taylor to correct the issues that resulted in a close election result, or calling the by-election, which as expected allowed the PNP to assume office.
In the light of subsequent events, this apparent decision by Britain could be viewed as a case of “out of the frying pan into the fire” and a possible source of later remorse on the part of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) officials.
A federal grand jury in West Palm Beach indicted Warren Johnson on nine counts, alleging bankruptcy fraud, bank fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors called for Johnson to forfeit assets, including his interest in Ice Ban America and a real estate development in the Turks and Caicos Islands as reported here
Ice Ban America also took action to rescind more than 5 million shares issued to Johnson and members of his family as reported here
Grand Turk showing the area south of the airport shaded red
The TCI development -- Grand Turk Harbour Bay project – was a planned $150 million development on Grand Turk, comprising a marina, condominiums, a cinema and a centre for prayer. The project was apparently approved by Skippings and Taylor and would have included all the Crown land between the airport and the southernmost tip of Grand Turk, including the property currently occupied by the Carnival Cruise Centre.
The project reportedly foundered when TCI accountant and corporate administrator, Reg Bodhanya, disappeared with $5 million in cash and stocks, the seed money for the development, which also prompted the Guardian newspaper in London to publish this expose
of tax havens in general.
In somewhat acrimonious and emotional proceedings at its convention last month, the PDM elected a new party leader for the second time in some eight months, and once again reverted to the old guard of the party, this time in the shape of Skippings.
Taylor later claimed in a local newspaper interview that he was ambushed by party members who were “hell-bent” on plotting his ouster.
Taylor also attempted to reinforce his own image with a thinly veiled reference to his allegations at the convention: “I never have to look over my shoulder, and no one can say that I have accepted any bribes from them, I never even complained about party finances. I have never lobbied anybody during my time for money or for campaigning financing – not for my government or for the party.”
When asked to comment on the issues arising from the allegations made by Taylor at the PDM convention, including whether or not the interim administration is likely to raise any objection to Skippings running for elected office and the current status of the investigation into the Warren Johnson allegations, Attorney General Huw Shepheard said, “I cannot comment on these issues at all.”