Asot, ghost employer won’t pay Carib Times workers

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Asot Michael, the former Minister of Investment and Trade who resigned over corruption allegations last week, is again at the centre of yet another controversy, the latest being that he is refusing to pay severance to workers of the defunct newspaper, Caribbean Times.
However, although the seven affected former employees understood and the public widely believed that Michael owned Carib Times Limited, there is little documented evidence that the MP was actually the company’s owner.
Emails reportedly sent in 2018 by Michael or someone acting on his behalf to the workers expressing a “commitment” to pay them their severance appear to be the strongest indication that he owns the company. Those emails are in the possession of the Antigua Trades & Labour Union (AT&LU) according to Industrial Relations Officer, Andie Stephen.
It is on that basis that the union wrote to Michael some time after the workers approached it in early February, telling him the amount that he owed in severance and asking him for a meeting. Michael has not replied to this day according to the industrial relations officer who spoke on Friday.
“We know that the company belongs to him and he would have said on the side that it’s his company and he makes the financial decisions although his name is not on paper,” Stephen said. She added that around three weeks ago, the union took the matter to the Labour Department and that it is now awaiting a date for a mediation.
While the AT&LU is satisfied that Michael owns Carib Times Ltd., OBSERVER encountered a starkly different but common position from four people formerly associated with the company – that the owner is simply unknown.
Michael’s secretary Stephanie Knight who was once a registered director of the company, Neil Jilkes who admitted to being a former operations manager at the company, Michael’s sister Soraya Michael who admitted to “overlooking” the company at one point and MP for St. Mary’s South Samantha Marshall who was the attorney who incorporated the company in June 2013 were all unable to identify the owner of Carib Times Ltd.
Knight, when called on Friday said she was “not privy to any information” on Caribbean Times. She replied “no” when asked if she worked at the company and when asked if she knew who owned the company she again replied, “No, I don’t.”
Later that day OBSERVER retrieved from the Antigua Barbuda Intellectual Property & Commerce Office (ABIPCO) a Notice of Directors of Carib Times Ltd. dated August 29, 2013 which stated that as of that date, Knight was a director of the company. The document was signed by Knight.
It is also widely known that she is Asot Michael’s secretary. On occasion, she has emailed staff at OBSERVER in that capacity from the address [email protected] and has also sent press releases addressed from “Ms. Stephanie Knight” as the “senior executive secretary to the Honorable Asot A. Michael.” On Friday, Knight said that rather than her, Soraya Michael was “the best person to speak to” and was unwilling to answer more questions. A source with knowledge of the matter told OBSERVER that Knight’s name appeared on cheques of Carib Times Ltd.
Listed on the same August 29, 2013 Notice of Directors was another director, Kimon Drigo. A director’s resolution of the same date also retrieved from the ABIPCO stated that Drigo was at that time the “managing director” of the company, while an even older Notice of Directors dated April 12, 2013 revealed that Drigo was the company’s sole director as of that April date. OBSERVER called Drigo on Friday but there was no answer.
Meanwhile, Jilkes, when contacted on Friday, admitted that he was “the former operations manager” of Carib Times Ltd. but said that he did not have the authority to answer any questions about severance since he no longer worked for the company. He said he did not know who owned the company “because I was hired by a third party.”
Jilkes refused to identify the “third party” and was unwilling to answer any more questions. Notably, the source who spoke to OBSERVER media claimed that Asot Michael would recruit individuals to work for the newspaper though he would not expressly state that he had any official connection to the company. Later, those whom Michael approached were simply hired, the source reported.
Knight told OBSERVER that Soraya Michael was “the last person that was managing the newspaper.” However, Soraya Michael when contacted on Friday said that she “was just overlooking them.” Asked if she knew who owned Carib Times Ltd., she said that she had been called at an inconvenient time and would rather be called back. She did not answer when called back later in the day.
Marshall’s role as the company’s incorporator was revealed in Articles of Incorporation of Carib Times Ltd., dated June 10, 2013 and stamped by the ABIPCO on the same date. When contacted on Friday she said she “can’t remember who instructed [her] then” and did not know who owns the company now. “I’ve not been practicing for nearly 10 years,” she said.
Marshall is a sitting MP for the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) as is Asot Michael but in June 2013 when she incorporated the company she was not yet a member of the Lower House of Parliament and was still a practicing attorney.
Knight, Jilkes and Soraya Michael were all reluctant to go into details when contacted and Marshall meanwhile seemed genuinely out of touch with the affairs of the company she incorporated five years ago.
Our source said that when Caribbean Times shut down operations on January 12, 2018, the employees were told that the company was being liquidated but nothing was communicated to them about severance. The source claims that in January, Asot Michael agreed to pay severance but later refused to pay, and the source also claims that the MP discussed with the workers hiring them at a new newspaper to be called “The News Link.”
Asot Michael did not
answer calls made to two of his cellular phones on Friday. In fact, Michael has not answered several calls and messages from our newsroom since he resigned
last week over corruption allegations. The seven staff members remain in limbo where their severance is concerned.

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