St Kitts-Nevis minister confirms criminal investigation launched into citizenship programme fraud

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(L-R) Jeremy Savory, Managing Partner, Savory & Partners, Wilkin-Armbrister, Acting Consul General, Consulate General of St Kitts & Nevis, Dubai, UAE, Mark Brantley Minister of Foreign Affairs. (PRNewsFoto/Savory and Partners)

By Caribbean News Now contributor

DUBAI, UAE — At a meeting in Dubai on Monday with citizenship agents, St Kitts and Nevis foreign minister and premier of Nevis, Mark Brantley, confirmed that local police have launched a full investigation into the use of forged documents in connection with the country’s citizenship by investment programme (CIP).

“Two, evidence-based examples of forgery were brought to the government’s attention. These constitute less than 0.01 percent of the business handled annually by St Kitts and Nevis, yet we have taken the matter very seriously. The police has launched a full investigation, and it is our intention those responsible are brought to justice,” he said.

He offered no further details as to the progress of the investigation, the underlying circumstances of which have been known to the government for at least three months, nor did he provide support for his claim that such incidents of fraud represent “0.01 percent of the business handled annually by St Kitts and Nevis.”

Brantley’s statement comes after weeks of unsuccessful attempts by Caribbean News Now to obtain information or comment on the matter from Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris; CEO of the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU), Les Khan; and the attorney general, Vincent Byron.

The situation, including Brantley’s statement, was however addressed this week in a press release issued by “government marketing agent”, CS Global Partners, which reportedly promotes the St Kitts and Nevis CIP internationally in return for an override commission on every successful citizenship application. It is currently unclear, however, how this system works in the context of illegal discounts offered by other citizenship agents and what the government has described as “private transactions” between agents and developers where applications are approved at amounts substantially below the statutory minimum real estate investment.

In a somewhat bizarre turn of events, Times Caribbean, a publication believed to be controlled, along with a number of other local media outlets, by Prime Minister Harris, reproduced the recent CS Global press release verbatim.

However, the image displayed in the article is a promotional graphic used by Savory & Partners, the same firm that has been shown by documentary evidence to be implicated in the specific criminal offence of forgery referred to by Brantley, as well as offering St Kitts and Nevis citizenship at illegal discounts.

CS Global did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, also reporting on the Dubai meeting, other media said that several attendees voiced doubt in Khan’s capability as head of the CIU.

Nigel Faron, a former St Kitts and Nevis civil servant, said that Khan’s statements at the meeting were misleading.

“It seems that either Mr Khan is ignorant of the very rules that define his programme, or that he is seeking to encourage illegal activity by downplaying the legal consequences of certain actions,” Faron said.

Earlier this month, Faron noted concerns regarding the current government, particularly with respect to local real estate development.

He pointed out that, on one hand, some developments have been highly successful, such as the multiple award-winning Park Hyatt St Kitts.

“On the other hand, others have been stagnating. The St Kitts Ramada Resort, scheduled to open by 2018, is still a mere skeleton and some way away from the luxury development it was intended to become. All this despite the Prime Minister characterising the project as ‘progressing at an impressive rate’,” Faron said, adding that the government “seems to be unable to properly evaluate the ability of some developers to deliver on their promises.”

That said, according to some comments on social media, the reason why the St Kitts and Nevis government will not or cannot take action to stop the CIP abuse is that the public officials involved are compromised by colluding in offering illegal discounts and the so-called private transactions between developers and agents.

Any effective action against the offending parties would therefore result in their exposure based on incriminating physical evidence held by those participants, including text messages, emails, receipts, and other correspondence.

Again, despite repeated requests, the government has failed to comment on the matter.

However, it is said that whistle blowers within the CIU are now sharing stories about the processing of citizenship applications without due diligence reports or required documents so it may be simply a matter of time before the entire CIP collapses in disarray to the long-term detriment of the St Kitts and Nevis economy.

No island is an island

No man is an island entire of itself; […]
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
~ John Donne (1572-1631)

One of the seemingly unacknowledged implications of the CIP abuse facing Harris and Khan is that none of these events are taking place unnoticed by the rest of today’s interconnected world, as much as they would like to think they are confined to their own little island microcosm of passive media and a gullible electorate easily influenced by shameless political hyperbole. Or even in the relatively closed world of citizenship by investment programmes.

In reality, what is reportedly happening in St Kitts and Nevis, especially as regards the alleged egregious due diligence shortcuts, has attracted the attention of the authorities in much larger and far more influential countries in North America and Europe that are particularly concerned about the national security aspects of potential “bad hombres” being granted St Kitts and Nevis passports willy nilly. Not to mention the possibility of their citizens being fleeced in a potential Ponzi scheme.

St Kitts and Nevis has already had unresolved run-ins with Canada (imposition of visa requirements in 2014) and the US Department of the Treasury (the still extant FINCEN advisory, also 2014).

A US government source told Caribbean News Now on condition of confidentiality that federal agencies have been aware for a very long time of possible corruption involving the St Kits and Nevis CIP, especially in relation to the Ramada Resort project.

“The government of St Kitts has chosen to ignore the warning signs, since some officials have a financial interest to allow what appears to a Ponzi scheme to continue, threatening not only the well-being of St Kitts citizens, but apparently facilitating the issue of questionable documents to hostile, state sponsored agents to perpetrate their clandestine tradecraft against the United States and Western governments.

“At the end of the day, there are person or persons within the St Kitts government who can consider themselves to be targets pursuant to 50 USC § 1801 acting for or on behalf of a foreign power, which engages in clandestine intelligence activities against United States or when such person or persons knowingly aids or abets any person in the conduct of such activities or knowingly conspires with any person to engage in such activities,” he said.

Harris, Khan, et al would do well to heed the words of John Donne: Do not ask for whom the bell tolls… “it tolls for thee.”

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