How Much Will It Cost Broke Saint Lu­cians to send Scammed Stu­dents Back to In­dia?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

By

Toni Ni­cholas

Even though the three men ar­rested in the Lam­birds Academy con­tro­versy have been charged with hu­man traf­fick­ing—not with fraud—the lo­cal me­dia con­tinue to re­fer it as “the Lam­birds Academy Scam” and Lam­birds­gate.

“That’s be­cause the au­thor­i­ties have a greater chance of prov­ing fraud,” one lawyer told the STAR this week. “Of course that does not mean the po­lice have what they would need to make the charge stick.” The same source added that the cops will have a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult time es­tab­lish­ing a suc­cess­ful hu­man traf­fick­ing charge. The STAR has been re­li­ably in­formed that sev­eral well­re­garded Saint Lu­cians were in­volved in the estab­lish­ment of Lam­birds at Gros Islet, and with the re­cruit­ing of stu­dents via the In­ter­net.

Might a fraud charge ex­tend to th­ese well-placed in­di­vid­u­als? Other se­ri­ous ques­tions have been raised about the due dili­gence un­der­taken by the var­i­ous lo­cal agen­cies that le­git­imized the school, as well as other busi­nesses and schools given the green light be­fore Lam­birds. The ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Robert Lewis this week seemed fi­nally to break his re­sound­ing si­lence on Lam­birds, which came to light last month. Not that the min­is­ter’s com­ments were vol­un­teered. Lewis spoke only af­ter cam­era-wield­ing re­porters cor­nered him on his way to Tues­day’s par­lia­men­tary ses­sion. Ac­cord­ing to the ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter and for­mer lec­turer at Mon­roe Col­lege, Lam­birds was not ac­cred­ited by his gov­ern­ment.

Re­fer­ring to an ear­lier “in­ter­view” with an uniden­ti­fied ra­dio sta­tion, Lewis chided re­porters whom he said seemed un­aware of the fact that a Lam­birds-re­lated doc­u­ment bear­ing his sig­na­ture con­cerned only work done by his min­istry’s tech­nocrats.

“The de­ter­mi­na­tion re­gard­ing el­i­gi­bil­ity is made by the tech­ni­cal per­sons in the min­istry,” he said. “That de­ter­mi­na­tion is con­veyed to the min­is­ter only when the of­fi­cer is sat­is­fied the in­sti­tu­tion has met all the cri­te­ria out­lined in the Ed­u­ca­tion Act, sub-sec­tion 98. This was the pro­ce­dure which was ap­plied in the case of Lam­birds Academy.” Lewis con­firmed that be­fore per­mits were granted the Asian op­er­a­tors of Lam­birds, back­ground checks were made by his of­fi­cials of his min­istry con­cerned only with “the ed­u­ca­tional as­pects” of the op­er­a­tion.

Lewis has over the last sev­eral months de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for mak­ing state­ments that amount to buck-pass­ing. On this oc­ca­sion he seemed to be at­tempt­ing to shift the fo­cus from his min­istry to the reg­is­trar of com­pa­nies, who had also signed a cer­tifi­cate for the Academy. Lewis also pointed an ac­cusatory fin­ger at In­vest Saint Lu­cia. The depart­ment had in­vited the Academy op­er­a­tors to set up busi­ness here, he said. Ear­lier this month Iftekhar Shams, one of the three Asian na­tion­als charged with hu­man traf­fick­ing in the Lam­birds fi­asco, told re­porters: “I came here as an in­vestor. In­vest Saint Lu­cia in­vited me, got me my visa and as­sisted me with get­ting all the li­censes.” He also named among his fa­cil­i­ta­tors the prime min­is­ter Kenny An­thony, his deputy Philip J. Pierre, Lewis, and the com­merce min­is­ter Emma Hip­polyte.

The STAR learned on Thurs­day that the gov­ern­ment was in the process of help­ing the af­fected Lam­birds stu­dents re­turn to their na­tive In­dia and Nepal. But the stu­dents com­plain they will be go­ing home broke and dis­ap­pointed, hav­ing spent thou­sands of bor­rowed dol­lars in pur­suit of promised ed­u­ca­tion and jobs in Saint Lu­cia. Some of them were ex­pected to give ev­i­dence in court next month. Ac­cord­ing to a legal source, their re­turn home be­fore a court case gets un­der­way could ad­versely im­pact the po­lice case.

Sev­eral sus­pi­cious minds here be­lieve the stu­dents are be­ing hur­riedly dis­patched in an ef­fort to save of­fi­cials fur­ther em­bar­rass­ment. It is con­jec­tural whether they will be com­pen­sated be­fore the stu­dents are bun­dled away.

And, as we were about to go to press we re­ceived a call from one of the stu­dents threat­en­ing sui­cide if there are at­tempts to throw them out of the coun­try with lit­tle chance of them re­cov­er­ing their money. Said the stu­dent; “we are be­ing sent back to our fam­i­lies and coun­try in shame and dis­grace and with noth­ing to show for our trip to Saint Lu­cia. This is be­com­ing very un­bear­able. We think the best thing to do is to end it all.”

The Lam­birds Academy cer­tifi­cate bear­ing the

Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion’s sig­na­ture.

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