Oswald Skippings (L) and Derek Taylor
By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands -- Candidates contesting the November 9 elections in the Turks and Caicos Islands are not required to obtain any prior clearance from the Integrity Commission to run, but public allegations of corruption made by former Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) leader Derek Taylor at the party’s convention in June against newly elected leader Oswald Skippings may pose something of a dilemma for the Commission.
Both Skippings and Taylor are “at large” candidates for the PDM at the forthcoming elections and the Integrity Commission, and perhaps the interim government in general, is therefore faced with a situation where one candidate (a former chief minister) has accused another candidate (also a former chief minister) of corruption, and it is impossible for both to maintain the required standard of integrity in maintaining their respective positions in the matter.
In other words, one must be telling the truth and the other must be lying – they cannot both be honest and above board.
In the presence of some 150 people, including 71 party delegates at the PDM convention, ousted leader Taylor claimed that, while he was chief minister (1995-2003), the then British governor asked him to fire 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 traded company called Ice Ban America Inc. (since renamed Natural Solutions).
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 Instead, Taylor reportedly alerted Skippings to sell his shares in Ice Ban because of Johnson’s then unpublished legal problems, which would have amounted to insider trading.
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.
Caribbean News Now has since discovered that the following Turks and Caicos Islands companies were the subject of legal proceedings in the United States that successfully recovered some 4,445,000 shares in Ice Ban America said to have been fraudulently issued or otherwise acquired through the activities of Johnson:
Medical College Fund
Windmills Plantation Fund
Hawks Nest Plantation Fund
Reed International Fund, Inc.
Marlin Preservation Fund
Ryder Securities Ltd
Harvard Fund Ltd
Merchants Trust Fund
Johnson is believed to have been the principal of the aborted Grand Turk Harbour Bay project in the TCI -- 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.
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.”
Similar enquiries addressed to the special investigation and prosecution team (SIPT) and other government officials have elicited no response whatsoever.
Heading the Integrity Commission is former chief justice of Barbados, Sir David Simmons. Other members are Bishop Clarence Williams, Reverend Reuben Hall, accountant Gary Brough and lawyer Jeremy Northcote. Rosita Butterfield resigned from the Commission earlier this year. Director of the Commission is Eugene Otuonye.