Astaphan to ‘assist’ in Odebrecht-Meinl probe

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An attorney who not so long ago represented Prime Minister Gaston Browne has been nominated to “assist” the Office of National Drug & Money Laundering Control Policy (ONDCP) as it investigates the Odebrecht-Meinl Bank scandal and whether there ought to be a public inquiry.
Minister of Information Melford Nicholas has already defended the Cabinet’s choice of Anthony Astaphan arguing that Astaphan, a Senior Counsel, has “tremendous legal experience” and “a breath of knowledge of similar proceedings.”
Nicholas was speaking at Friday morning’s post-Cabinet press conference.
The Browne administration has resisted the main opposition’s and other independent analysts’ calls for an inquiry into the scandal. However, it is now asking the ONDCP to “review” and “ascertain” the facts surrounding Antigua & Barbuda’s relation to the scandal and submit a report to the Attorney General, Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, and the Cabinet.
This is according to an official statement released on Friday as part of the government Chief of Staff Lionel “Max” Hurst’s press notes of this week’s Cabinet meeting.
In addition to naming Astaphan as the attorney who will be asked to assist the ONDCP, the statement also said the ONDCP’s report “may include” whether there should be a public inquiry and whether the report should be passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Anthony Armstrong.
Nicholas argued that the ONDCP will not be fettered in its investigation by the Cabinet nominated lawyer. The minister said, “At the end of the day if there are issues involving any legal action to be taken then the ONDCP is empowered lawfully to refer the matter to the DPP in its own deliberate judgement.”
Nicholas added that Astaphan would have terms of reference laying out his involvement in the endeavour and would not be “guiding the process” but only “providing legal guidance on points of law that have to be investigated.”
The minister said that other attorneys may be called in if there is such a need.
Astaphan is no stranger to Antigua & Barbuda or its politicians. Last year, the senior counsel told OBSERVER media that he had been asked to assist lawyers John Fuller and Rika Bird in a case involving Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) members Gaston Browne, Sir Lester Bird, Molwyn Joseph, Mary-Claire Hurst and Sharon Kentish.
In 2010, the party members appealed a conviction for disobeying the Public Order Act on Labour Day (May 4) in 2009.
On Friday, Astaphan told OBSERVER media that he could not immediately comment on the matter.
Also on Friday, Nicholas said, “We will resist any conversation in relation to whether or not any representation Mr Astaphan would have made on behalf of any other person in any other circumstance would taint his ability to provide legal guidance in respect of an investigation.”
The Odebrecht-Meinl Bank scandal refers to the corruption scandal in which Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht paid millions in bribes to officials across South America and elsewhere. In 2010, Odebrecht officials reportedly acquired the Meinl Bank in Antigua to facilitate bribe payments internationally.
The Office of the Prime Minister has been mentioned in the scandal because of allegations that money was paid by Odebrecht agents to an Antiguan official and this was intended to be a bribe. The alleged intent of the Odebrecht agents was for high ranking officials to prevent the government of Antigua and Barbuda from cooperating with Brazilian investigations into the Meinl Bank.
(More in today’s Daily Observer)

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