Editorial: Antiguan criminal mastermind.

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Let’s get something straight. OBSERVER media reports on news that is relevant to Antigua & Barbuda.  If there is an Antiguan or Barbudan in the news, and that news is significant and relevant to our readers and listeners, we report on it. 
We made reference to that basic principal because some people still do not grasp it.  In the case of the Alexandre Cazes, he is an Antiguan & Barbudan citizen.  He and his wife received their citizenship and passports through the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) in February of this year.  Nearly every news organization in the world makes mention of that fact. For some though, they feel that his Antiguan citizenship is secondary.  They believe that we should refer to him as a Canadian first.  In the words of Sir Lester: Give us a break! Give us an aspirin! 
If an Antiguan & Barbudan was running track for another country and they beat Usain Bolt, we would report on his accomplishment with the headline “Antiguan beats Bolt!”  That is how news is made relatable to readers and listeners. It is not spin, it is not political, it is just the relatable fact.  To belittle the relevance of the CIP connection in this latest scandal is akin to burying your head in the sand and hoping that no one sees you.  Ridiculous!
There are some big questions that have arisen out of this latest CIP drama and issues that need addressing immediately. Top of that list of questions is: how did our vetting process not reveal the source of Mr Cazes wealth or the ongoing multi-jurisdiction investigation into his operation of the largest dark web site in the world?  Something is not right here and it is incumbent on the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) to reveal all that they know about the now deceased 25-year-old Cazes to the public.  Transparency is the only way to restore public trust in the system.
This is headline news around the world and Antigua & Barbuda’s name is attached to almost every description of the man who has been described as a criminal mastermind.  His business, AlphaBay, has been described in similar terms – a sprawling criminal enterprise that was a marketplace for drugs, weapons, chemicals and other dangerous and illicit items.  Ten times bigger than Silk Road, according to Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, which was busted in another high profile dark web takedown in 2013.
As a bit of history and to show the gravity of this.  Now small potatoes Silk Road’s founder, Ross William Ulbricht, was convicted of eight charges related to the operation of the dark web site and was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole in US Federal Court in Manhattan.  The FBI seized 170,000 bitcoins from Silk Road accounts and Ulbricht.  Today, at a value of US $2677.79 per bitcoin, that seizure is worth over US $455 million!!!  AlphaBay is ten times bigger than Silk Road.
The takedown of Cazes and AlphaBay is being held up as a trophy by law enforcement officials all over the world.  United States, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “This is likely one of the most important criminal investigations of the year – taking down the largest dark net marketplace in history.”  Those kinds of statements were echoing through the media along with the fact that Canadian born Cazes and his wife were Antigua & Barbuda passport holders. 
The CIU has defended the vetting process and said that “nothing nefarious” came up in any of the background check of this criminal mastermind. Their release states that the Unit’s due diligence providers are wide ranging and the “due diligence providers, which include private, regional and international law enforcement and intelligence agencies, returned no derogatory information in their official reports”. All well and good but that just tells us that our wide ranging due diligence providers and the processes are not good enough.  If Alexandre Cazes slipped though the “extensive searches”, how many others may have slipped through and hold shiny new Antigua & Barbuda passports?
Let’s review.  A Canadian, living in Bangkok with no discernable income wants an Antiguan passport.  It is not for superior visa-free access.  And if he is honest, it is not for tax purposes. On the income side, The Verge, reports that EBXtech.com, his ‘front’ company “was ‘barely functional,’ according to court documents; and EBX company bank records showed little to no income.”  Yet the million-dollar-Lamborghini-driving-25-year-old raised no flags. 
One of the reasons that people have lobbied for the list of names of passport holders and/or applicants to be made public is for a ‘second’ or ‘third’ set of eyes.  Public vetting is a powerful thing.  Someone may recognize the name of a nefarious character on the list and alert our CIU to the potential that the person may be an undesirable.  But we don’t have that option available to us because apparently criminal masterminds need to hold their new passports in secret – until they are caught.
Look, we have never liked the CIP from the start but it is here to stay as long as it lasts and we have to make sure that every possible stone is overturned when vetting individuals as potential holders of our cherished Antigua & Barbuda passport.  Just because a person has never been caught doing a crime and has a clean police report does not mean that they are not a criminal. 
We recognize that it will never be a perfect system but in its short existence, we have already seen a case where an applicant has allegedly informed an agent that they were wanted by law enforcement but received citizenship and a passport anyway.  Now, we have a criminal mastermind operating the largest online marketplace for illicit drugs and other crazy illegal stuff brandishing an Antigua & Barbuda passport and we don’t like it one bit.  The government and the CIU can talk about our rigorous due diligence process and best practices all they want but we do not have the faith that they do. 
And as much as the CIU talks a big talk, they realize that this is a big deal and something went wrong. According to their release, “…the Unit will endeavour to ascertain from its international government and private due diligence partners why none of these suspicious activities were revealed to the Unit during or subsequent to the processing of the application.”  We expect that this will be a top priority and the CIU will issue a report to the people on their findings in a short period of time.  At the same time, we ask that the CIU releases the documentation related to the Cazes due diligence process so the public can see for themselves the rigorous process and get some level of comfort.
We will wait for a response but something tells us that this will reach the desk of the Information Commissioner or maybe even the court.  Now sip some kool-aid and begin the attack.

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