When the news hit that a former minister and member of parliament from Barbados had been criminally charged in the United States of America with laundering bribes he is accused of receiving from a Barbadian insurance company, shockwaves reverberated around the region. Donville Inniss, who served as minister of industry was recently arrested in Florida where he was charged before being released on bail.
Former Minister Inniss was charged with money laundering and conspiracy. Big crimes that have the potential of putting the 52 year-old behind bars for a significant period of time, if he is found guilty. In the indictment in Brooklyn federal court, prosecutors claim that Inniss took part in a scheme to receive $36,000 in bribes from executives of a Barbadian insurance company that remained unnamed. The alleged purpose of the bribes was to help the insurance company secure two government contracts.
To many, this is nothing more than big, bad Uncle Sam crossing borders to slap-down regional politicians and send a message, but to many others, this is welcomed intervention into the corruption that has plagued the region. Too few people in positions of power and influence have ever seen the inside of a courtroom, far less the inside of a jail cell. This comes from a combination of things: lack of enforcement, lack of investigative expertise or simply a lack of political will. The latter comes from that unsaid and often denied informal agreement that centers around, ‘we won’t prosecute your wrongdoings, if you do the same for us when you are in power.’
In the case of Inniss, he seems to have gotten caught by the U.S. banking system (or maybe someone just ratted him out). According to the indictment, Inniss sought to conceal the bribe payments by laundering the bribes though the account of a New York dental company. The insurance executives allegedly masked the bribes as consulting services and had their Bermuda parent company route the payments through New York banks. The dental company then made cheques payable to Inniss. The prosecutors claim that a friend of the former minister was the authorised representative of the dental company and facilitated the money transfers.
All of this alleged skullduggery has landed Inniss with three criminal counts: Count One relates to the conspiracy to launder money while counts Two and Three are related to the actual money laundering of US$16,536.73 on August 17, 2015 and US$20,000 on March 18, 2016. All three counts centered around alleged acts “to transport, transmit, and transfer monetary instruments and funds to one or more places in the United States from one or more places outside the United States, with the intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activity, to wit: an offense against a foreign nation involving bribery of a public official, in violation of the Barbados Prevention of Corruption Act provisions outlined in paragraphs l9 through 21 of this Indictment, contrary to Title 1 8, United States Code, Section I 9s6(a)(2)(A).”
It is now up to Inniss to defend himself against the allegations and provide an alternative explanation as to the money trail that the prosecutors have established. In the meantime, we understand that there is nervousness and anxiety spreading across the region. People believe that Inniss will be the test case and eventually the precedent to pursue other bigger fish with lots more available for forfeiture.
Oh yes! We forgot that part. The indictment also puts Inniss on notice that “the government will seek forfeiture in accordance with Title 18, United States Code, Section 982(a)(1) …” That section “requires any person convicted of such offenses to forfeit any property, real or personal, involved in such offenses, or any property traceable to such property.” And, in case the government cannot put its hands on the property for any reason, it will “seek forfeiture or any other property of the defendant up to the value of the forfeitable property…” As a revenue collection exercise, this could be very lucrative for the U.S. government, if successful and expanded. We only hope that they share the bounty.
Don’t think that this is the end of it. With banking the way it is today, it is becoming increasingly hard for bad money to pass – at least in the United States and the global regulated banking systems. And that is the key reason why the big boys on the block, who know a thing or two about money laundering, want to get greater transparency into the offshore banking world. They have long realised that tax evaders and ccorrupt people utilise the weaker regulations of the offshore financial services to mask their crimes, so the pressure is on. Of course, it does not help that the Odebrecht scandal has painted Antigua and Barbuda as a poster child for all that is wrong with offshore financial services and regulations. So, buckle up everyone, the ride has the potential to get bumpy – we are already feeling the nervous tremors. Watch this space!
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