By Caribbean News Now contributor
BASSETERRE, St Kitts — As the numerous accusations being levelled at the St Kitts and Nevis (SKN) citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programme reached fever pitch this week, with evidence of malfeasance and passports being sold at fraudulent ‘rock bottom’ prices, a former national security minister said the situation “is nasty. It is ridiculous and disgraceful.”
Political and social activist Dwyer Astaphan raised the issue of CBI fraud in brutally frank terms on his weekly ‘Operating Room’ programme on WinnFM on Tuesday and accused government officials of ‘turning a blind eye’ to fraudulent developers who are ‘squeezing the blood’ out of the islands
Astaphan, who is now the chairman of the National Security Strategy Formulation Committee, made a plea for the government to stop ‘turning a blind eye to the pillaging of the country’ by allowing passports to be sold on the cheap through real estate ‘trickery’ schemes.
Astaphan, who regularly makes appeals to put an end to corrupt practices in St Kitts and Nevis, read out letters on air from international agents who he claimed are offering the nation’s CBI real estate option for less than the legal price of $200,000 for a single applicant.
Under the current law, applicants for St Kitts and Nevis citizenship have a choice of two legitimate options, Astaphan said.
The first is a donation to the country’s Sustainable Growth Fund, which requires a contribution of $150,000 for a single applicant or $195,000 for a single applicant with up to three dependents.
The second ‘real estate’ option requires the applicant to invest $200,000 for a half share in approved St Kitts and Nevis property, or allows a couple to invest $400,000 jointly.
Astaphan said he is in possession of evidence that shows a coterie of collaborators who are offering the nation’s CBI real estate option for up to half the legitimate price.
The former minister said a network of global fraudsters are submitting CBI applications for the $200,000 real estate option but the bulk of the transactions are made up of ‘fees and kickbacks’, with very little cash ending up in the country’s approved real estate projects.
Astaphan said: “Hardly any of the money is going towards the country’s development. What about the people of St Kitts and Nevis? What about the jobs the hotels could provide?”
“The agent sends the real estate sales and purchase agreement to the local authorities but that agreement doesn’t show the breakdown and that’s all the government sees. Some don’t care as long as the passport is sold. It’s possible that the political decision makers are turning a blind eye to it or giving it their blessing,” said the former minister.
Astaphan lamented the fact there are many incomplete developments scattered around SKN “which may not have sold enough” to complete their development, or they may have no intention of building at all.
He said: “If they are not taking the proper money for real estate, they won’t have enough to build a five star hotel; they will only have enough for a cubbyhole.
“If the developer is just looking for money and is not concerned with what they build and when, and if the government is primarily concerned with government fees, what is going to be left for the people of St Kitts and Nevis?”
Astaphan said he suspected fraudulent actors have abused the real estate CBI option for many years.
He cited the case of Coburn T. Norfleet vs Prather McNeal-Hutchinson in St Kitts in 2014 where the judge ruled that two Frigate Bay condominium units were being sold through the St Kitts and Nevis CBI programme for $150,000 less than the legal real estate investment requirement.
Astaphan quoted the judge as saying: “The so-called purchase agreement brings into the sharp focus the trickery practices employed by real estate agents and others. It appears that actors are abusing the CBI programme. It appears the purchaser is trying to get St Kitts and Nevis citizenship by false presences.”
The judge concluded in that case: “In all the circumstances of this case, I think it would be an affront to public conscience to grant Mr Norfleet the relief he seeks, because it would thereby appear to assist or encourage Mr Norfleet in his conduct in encouraging would be investors in illegal and oppressive and dishonest transactions.”
Astaphan also read out the contents of a taped client conversation in which a Middle East-based agent tells the prospective buyer they can pay “less than $200,000” to get a St Kitts and Nevis passport.
The former minister said: “Some developers and agents are maybe mainly interested in getting the money from the clients. They are breaking the law and they are underselling our St Kitts and Nevis citizenship.
“They are making commissions and they don’t give a hoot. If they could squeeze the blood out of St Kitts for five to ten years for hundreds of millions of dollars and then flee, they would. But it seems that some people in and around the public service only care if they get the government fees.”
The former minister warned that the population of SKN is not getting the protection and leadership it needs from its government.
“This thing is nasty. It is ridiculous and disgraceful. It started under the old government but it continues, he said. “We have a platinum tourism brand and we are letting these people take advantage of us. What will the CBI tell the people when are there are no finished projects in the country and people can’t get work? Some local people are making a killing out of it, yet they are still pretending to love the country and its people.”