Editorial: Full disclosure on public business

Antigua and Barbuda is in the international news again! This time, it is with regards to the recent court judgment and latest round of allegations against Peter Virdee, the British businessman who has been accused of being involved in a complex £43 million Value Added Tax (VAT) fraud, consisting of a chain of transactions with carbon dioxide emissions certificates; unfortunately, too complex to get into at this time.

If for some reason you do not know about Virdee’s ties to our bit of paradise, he has been named as an investor in a 1,000-acre development in Barbuda and in solar power plant projects. At least, that is what has been made public. He was held under the European Arrest Warrant on behalf of the German authorities earlier this year, but maintained the confidence of the Gaston Browne-led Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) administration. The administration proclaimed that his arrest would have no impact on the projects that he was associated with in Antigua and Barbuda because the government was dealing with his company and not directly with him. 

The non-reaction was curious. There was no call for a review of his deals or an examination of how his plans would be financed and executed going forward. It was basically a shrug of the shoulders, and we moved on. That is not how the real world works but this is Antigua, and we are special.

The latest judgment issued by Lord Justice Tim Holroyde and Justice James Dingemans in London’s High Court was a blow for Virdee and his business partner Dieter Trutschler. The justices rejected their applications for judicial review of the decision of the National Crime Agency (NCA) not to return items seized following what they said were unlawful arrests and searches, and the challenge of the production orders issued by judges at the Central Criminal Court in which it is alleged that the NCA failed to give full and frank disclosure when applying for the orders.

While the case is fascinating all on its own, the recent judgment included transcripts of a phone conversation intercepted at different times in 2016 by German law enforcement between Virdee, Trutschler and our own current Minister of Trade and Investment, Asot Michael, who at the time of the conversations, was actually the Minister of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment and Energy. In that call, there were two areas that piqued our curiosity. First, the Minister stated, “I don’t want to speak on Antigua on the phone. We speak on Antigua in person. Or when you get a secure line you can call me.” For a public servant, that is an odd set of conditions to insist upon when discussing matters with an investor. What could be so secretive that a minister of energy would need a secure line when talking to an energy investor on matters relating to projects in Antigua and Barbuda?

The next thing that caught our attention was the minister’s statement, “I am not working for nothing, and you guys walk away with everything like in Antigua.” He made this comment while discussing a multi-million dollar split of proceeds from a possible St. Kitt’s project. That leads to the obvious question: what did those guys walk with from the Antigua project(s)? What is the “everything?”

In our minds, there is too much smoke. We need to see if there is a fire that needs extinguishing, and the only way to do that is to see the documents – each and every document relating to all agreements between the government, affiliates, statutory bodies, etc. and Virdee, his companies, affiliates, etc. That is the only thing that will shed some light in this darkness. None of this is top secret, national security stuff, and so everything should be made available to the media and the public for scrutiny.

For example, what is the deal for the renewable energy plants? How much was paid? What are the terms? What is the energy purchase agreement between APUA and Virdee and/or his companies? What are the details of the agreements regarding Barbuda? We need the answers to these and many other questions because enough has come to light to warrant these requests. It cannot be another case of sweeping the issue under the rug and telling the people of this nation to go mind their business because this is the public’s business!

It makes no difference that Minister Michael has resigned from his Cabinet position. It is time for the grand reveal. Bring on the documents … drum roll, please.

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