By G.A. Dwyer Astaphan
About a week ago, American Mr Kenneth Rijock informed the world that Dominica’s prime minister, Mr Roosevelt Skerrit, was under investigation by the United States Department of Justice for his role in the sale of a Dominican diplomatic passport to an Iranian gentleman named Alireza Zabahalat Monfared, who, Mr Rijock claims, was recently returned to Iran to face criminal prosecution for embezzling millions of dollars of state funds.
Dwyer Astaphan is a lawyer and former St Kitts-Nevis minister of national security and tourism
Mr Rijock says that the US investigation into Prime Minister Skerrit relates to facilitating the delivery of a diplomatic passport to Mr Monfared who, according to Mr Rijock, is a known international sanctions violator.
Now before I go any further, let me state that I hold no brief for Prime Minister Skerrit, nor would he need, or even wish, me to. My interest in Mr Rijock’s story is that it refers to a Caribbean prime minister and to a citizenship by investment program, and that it can have bad consequences, not only for Dominica, but also for the rest of us.
Let me also say that while I robustly advocate against wrongdoing and corruption in public life, I’m not one to rush gleefully and carelessly to conclusions in matters which challenge a person’s integrity and character, such as this does. So if there’s the slightest chance that Mr Rijock is onto something here, then the chips will have to fall where they may. But if not, then that’s another matter. And some questions would have to be asked and answered.
The truth is that there are several defects in Mr Rijock’s complaint against the Dominican prime minister. Defects of logic and reason. Defects that ought not to arise in the thinking and arguments of a trained legal mind.
Again, I’m not purporting to speak in Mr Skerrit’s defence, but why would Mr Rijock publish speculative material which he must know is capable of causing severe harm to Dominica, and others?
Others, including us here in St Kitts and Nevis.
As recently as yesterday, Mr Rijock published a hyped up and accusatory article on his financial crimes blog entitled "When East Caribbean Nations Give Passports to Iranians, Global Security is Threatened".
In that piece he refers to “Dominica’s scandal”, meaning the Monfared matter, and to “St Kitts and Nevis’ latest passport black eye” meaning the identification by the US authorities of another Iranian, Kambiz Rostamian, holding a St Kitts and Nevis passport.
If the one is a “scandal” and the other a “black eye”, then how would Mr Rijock describe the seemingly endless cases of fraud in America’s EB-5 Green Card (leading to citizenship) program? So much fraud that some legislators are calling for an end to the program. But it’s still going on.
How many Iranians and Iranian threats have been involved in the US EB-5 program?
Of course, while I wish the US well, I can’t help but wonder why Mr Rijock and others of his kind seem not to have such a voracious appetite to ventilate on the shenanigans in the US and European programs as they do with regard to ours in the Caribbean.
The good Lord knows that most of us in these islands want efficiency, transparency and integrity to be the hallmarks of the conduct of our leaders and our governments. And we keep pressing for that, in our economic citizenship programs and everywhere else.
However, Mr Rijock, or anyone else, crying wolf in the absence of certainty can do us great harm. And crying wolf deliberately to do harm is infinitely worse.
Who is Ken Rijock?
He’s a lawyer who in the 1980s got deeply involved in laundering of money earned from drug dealing, prostitution, etc. And he published a book on his criminal activities entitled ‘The Laundry Man’.
He was reined in by the law in 1990, and because he cooperated with US federal authorities, he received a relatively mild two-year prison sentence, and was released in 1992.
I believe that he was suspended from practicing law for five years, but it seems that he never went back into it. Instead, since his release he has been delivering lectures and advising bankers, law enforcement groups, and others, giving them insights into the world on money laundering.
And he publishes his financial crimes blog.
He’s a busy fellow.
My reference to his criminal past is not intended in any way to impugn him.
I do so because, not only is it the truth but also because it’s relevant, if only to demonstrate that he may have had his epiphany when, in the late 1980s, he realized that the long arm of the law was closing in on him. Prison can have that effect on some people.
And we’re all sinners.
Having said that, my experiences in life and in government have made me just a bit of a skeptical of people from the metropolis who seem either unaware of the damage that they might be doing to countries such as ours, or they simply and callously deliberately set out to do such damage.
I sometimes wonder if they realize that their actions could actually draw more ‘bad eggs’ to the region, and ultimately could lead to instability and a possible geopolitical rearrangement that might not be in the best interests of the United States.
It’s bad enough for the people of our countries if a prime minister is put under suspicion, as Mr Rijock has done here with Mr Skerrit. But it could be even worse if the suspicion is groundless.
So we need to ask this question: Does Mr Rijock have a motive? If the answer is yes, then his statements about Mr Skerrit would lead us to ask these questions: Does he have ‘a horse in the race’ in Dominica? Has he ever been engaged in any way, whether or not for reward, to assist any political or other group in Dominica or elsewhere that is unsupportive of Prime Minister Skerrit? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then which is the group that engaged Mr. Rijock? Could it be a group which was once ‘friendly’ with Dominica, and, indeed, St Kitts, and which made a fortune out of those friendships, but is now on the warpath against these two tiny Caribbean sisters?
Are we in these islands seeing people from the metropolis who, once they don’t get their way with us, choose, frothing with utter contempt and disregard for our people, to torpedo our economies? Are we seeing the new type of mercenary from the metropolis, not the one who assassinates leaders and others literally, and engages in, and foments, war-like activities, but instead the mercenary who assassinates the names of people and the institutions of these tiny, vulnerable nations, and wreaks utter havoc economically and socially?
Is it possible that the people who paid the British group in the effort to unseat Mr Skerrit in Dominica’s 2009 elections may have also engaged Mr Rijock to try the same in the 2014 elections?
There are people who will believe that the answer to these questions is yes. If so, then that might reveal a motive behind what Mr Rijock is doing here. A motive driven by scorched earth partisanship and vindictiveness. A motive which, translated into words, can do incalculable harm to the people of a little nation.
Is there any truth in the report that a high-ranking official in one of these international citizenship-by-investment firms which operates in this part of the world has resigned because of his deep discomfort with certain practices in that firm?
I’m not accusing anyone of any wrongdoing. I’m just trying to get to the bottom of this.
Ken Rijock has me thinking.