By Caribbean News Now contributor
BASSETERRE, St Kitts — In his budget presentation in parliament last week, St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris touched upon the abuses recently uncovered in the country’s citizenship by investment programme (CIP), including allegations of forgery and fraud, but offered no substantive detail and, predictably, blamed unnamed “aggrieved parties with personal vendettas” for recent efforts “to scandalize the programme”.
The St Kitts and Nevis government has so far failed to act decisively against the perpetrators of discounted citizenship schemes and forged letters. Marketing agents in the Middle East are continuing to offer unauthorised cut-price St Kitts and Nevis citizenships, despite a half-hearted warning (with insufficient sanctions) from the government’s Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) that it may clamp down on offenders.
The worst culprits are Savory & Partners, Bluemina and AAA Associates, who are still sending out emails after the warning notice, offering deals that undercut official government investment options.
This unsanctioned activity continues to subvert the CIU’s statement on Monday last week that: “The government may take any action deemed necessary to protect the integrity of the program.” Critics say that the CIU’s notice to this effect is wholly ineffectual and, in any case, it has failed to take any corrective or disciplinary action against the known offenders. The “toothless” CIU notice was clearly issued only after these abuses were exposed in the media attention to this matter.
In addition, clear evidence that a letter from the CIU, headed by CEO Les Khan, had apparently been tampered with and/or forged – something that constitutes a criminal offence – has been largely ignored.
Last week, Caribbean News Now made it clear to both the CIU, Savory & Partners and a local developer that it was in possession of documents, including emails and letters, that make it very plain that forgery and fraud were taking place on a large scale.
However, the government, Savory & Partners and the developer in question have failed to provide any kind of explanation or clarification of the following documents in our possession (published here with the client’s name and other details redacted), despite several emailed requests:savory
According to the relevant documents signed by the applicant and the developer, the client is told he is purchasing a share in an approved development for a discounted “special offer” amount equivalent to the then CIP government “donation” option, but agrees immediately to transfer this interest back to the developer.
In other words, the applicant receives nothing of tangible value in return for his purported real estate investment except for St Kitts and Nevis citizenship, as would be the case if the applicant had made the optional contribution to the country’s Hurricane Relief Fund or Sustainable Growth Fund. However, under this scheme, others pocket the money instead of the government, without giving anything of concrete value in return, apparently representing a blatant fraud against the St Kitts and Nevis government.
Agents involved in this deceit can make upwards of US$100,000 per application, compared to the customary government commission of US$15,000, to the detriment of the people of St Kitts and Nevis.
While this would seem to represent a criminal offence under the laws of St Kitts and Nevis, something that should be of greater concern to all participants in this apparent fraud is the fact that the proceeds of such criminal activity were directed to be transferred in US dollars through the US banking system, leading to potential exposure to US federal investigation and possible money laundering charges.
While the local developer has claimed that the documents also represent a fraud against his company, he has since failed to explain why, among other questionable issues, the name of his development would have been inserted in the allegedly forged letter in the first place.
Savory, the agent concerned whose staff issued the forged letter, also issued a statement to another publication denying any involvement in this matter, characterizing the allegations as “damaging and misleading”.
Again, Savory failed to respond to a request for an explanation as to how the documents in question are “misleading”, especially when the emails clearly indicate that at least two members of its staff, Roma Vibal and Omar Takidin, were complicit in forwarding the allegedly forged letter to the client in question.
Khan also failed to respond directly to any of the relevant questions.
In the meantime, the alleged mismanagement of the St Kitts and Nevis citizenship program was just one of a lengthy list of complaints set out in a parliamentary motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris filed last week by the opposition St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party.
“Wherever evidence has been provided regarding unacceptable behavior we have acted appropriately. When persons sought to sell below program statutory thresholds, we have taken quick action to dissuade and to have them cease and desist. When persons maliciously generated letters purporting to come from our Citizenship by Investment Unit bearing false information, we have acted, including to seek the support of the relevant law enforcement authorities,” Harris said in his budget presentation later in the week, without revealing what action, if any, has in fact been taken or identifying the “relevant law enforcement authorities” whose support has been sought.
He called on “those service providers who were implicated in any way in these spurious letters to come forward, so advise the Unit and be prepared to bring full, definitive and factual evidence of such malpractice and fraud so that such matters can be fully addressed and corrective action taken.”
Harris noted that the principals of a local service provider to whom the allegedly forged letter was addressed, have “come forward and indicated an interest to help to deal with this matter”.
The principals of the local service provider told Caribbean News Now that the firm had never received such a letter from the CIU and had never forwarded such a letter to anyone.
Criticism of the inaction of the government and its citizenship unit continues to grow, with stakeholders asking why the CIU has failed to take any action against the forgers of these letters and documents.