Nothing a public inquiry couldn’t solve

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While taking a break from showering the OBSERVER with love during the most recent Parliament sittings, Prime Minister Gaston Browne revealed that the Government of Antigua & Barbuda had dispatched a strong rebuke of the assertions made in the March 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, on Money Laundering and Financial Crimes published by the United States Department of State, Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
One of the areas covered in the seven-page document presented in Parliament is the Odebrecht affair.  Yes, the same finger-pointing international scandal that has put our bit of paradise on the global stage, once again, for all the wrong reasons. Of course, Prime Minister Browne used some Donald Trump-like “alternative facts” to insinuate that the OBSERVER was behind the incorrect reporting of the amount of an alleged bribe to two high-level Antiguan officials. Completely inaccurate but that is what “alternative facts” are.
The absurd allegation is that the US State Department would rely on OBSERVER’s reporting on a US Justice Department matter. Since we are into only facts, we shall reproduce the text of the INCSR allegation and the response by our government. It rated only two short paragraphs out of seven pages.
The INCSR report stated, “In 2016, US prosecutors alleged that government officials from Antigua and Barbuda participated in a corruption scandal involving the payout of close to $8 million in bribes by Brazilian construction contractor Odebrecht. The corruption allegations involve two high-level officials and two offshore banks in Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua and Barbuda continues to investigate allegations of money laundering.”
Our Washington, DC embassy responded, “Note should be taken that while US prosecutors may have made allegations in a US court against an unnamed official, the US has not shared with Antiguan authorities the substance and evidence of those statements. Nonetheless, the Office of National Drug Control and Money Laundering Policy (ONDCP), which is an independent statutory body that investigates matters of financial crimes, is keep this matter under scrutiny.
“Further, the ONDCP is conducting investigations in concert with Brazilian authorities into the Odebrecht matter. It has provided full cooperation to the Brazilian investigative authorities resulting in 71 accounts in two banks being restrained and hundreds of documents being provided.”
Meanwhile, at home, the political leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Senator Harold Lovell, has called for an independent, public inquiry into the matter. In response, the prime minister has revealed documents that seem to show that Senator Lovell had a working relationship in his capacity as a lawyer after he left office (in 2015) with former Honorary Consul Luiz Augusto Franca and a company by the name of Fincastle Enterprises Limited. The PM has called on Lovell to explain the relationship. 
Lovell certainly needs to explain the relationship but at the same time, this deflection cannot be the end to such a major allegation. The PM cannot simply dismiss the need for a public inquiry by saying that he cannot call an inquiry into uncorroborated allegations.
This stance is very interesting because when the news broke in the New York Times, Prime Minister Browne put up a brave front and made it known that the allegations were so severe that no stone would be left unturned in getting to the bottom of this.
More specifically, he said, “I am treating the New York Times report quite seriously, particularly as it is quoting from an official document of the US District Court in Eastern New York in a case between the US government and Odebrecht.
“I have instructed our Ambassador in Washington, DC, Sir Ronald Sanders, to retain legal services immediately in order to secure the cooperation of the US District Court with regard to identifying the unnamed persons who claimed to be linked to the government.
“My government is resolved to get to the bottom of this story since it alleges involvement by persons claiming to be intermediaries for, or officials of, the government. If these allegations are substantiated, I will act immediately and appropriately against any such persons,” the prime minister emphasised.
Back then, the prime minister said that he was determined to take swift action so as to safeguard the standing of Antigua and Barbuda in the international community. Today, the perceptions are that the action is more on pause than being swift and there is no benefit of holding an independent public inquiry to clear our name in the eyes of the international community.
Based on all of the finger-pointing and insinuations, you would think that the squeaky-clean PM and his administration would want to ensnare their political adversary, Senator Lovell, by holding a public inquiry, but that is not the case. Meanwhile, the one man that has been proven to have had a relationship in these matters and admitted to attending meetings has been given a clean bill of political health and a pat on the back. All he had to do was give a closed door explanation and state that he would return the money that he said was for legitimate business.
At this point, we can see no other option available to restore our good name than a fully transparent, independent public inquiry. Our country’s reputation has been tarnished and we need to remedy that in the strongest way that we can. So, call the inquiry and let the chips fall where they may. If everyone is innocent, as is claimed, then the inquiry will be of no harm to anyone and will then be solely for the good of the country.
Footnote: So that there is clarity surrounding the allegations, we invite our readers to visit antiguaobserver.com where the United States Department of Justice document which outlines the allegations surrounding the Odebrecht bribery scandal and the 3 million euros paid to a high-level government official.
 We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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