When Lambs lie down with Birds of prey look out for skele­tons!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

They came from places with strange sound­ing names: Mohali; Hoshiapur; Har­ri­ana; Ja­lan­der; Kathmandu; Madi, Bro­jad . . . Ex­cept for the two or three young mar­ried cou­ples among them, they first en­coun­tered one an­other in the tran­sit lounge of an air­port in Frank­furt, Ger­many. It was here, while they waited some nine hours for the same flight, they had dis­cov­ered to their de­light they were from dif­fer­ent parts of In­dia and Nepal and headed for the same fi­nal des­ti­na­tion.

They learned, too, that they were fel­low pur­suers of the same dream life promised by op­er­a­tors of a highly touted learn­ing cen­ter: Lam­birds Academy, lo­cated at “Dauphin Street, Gross Islet, Saint Lu­cia, North Amer­ica”—de­scribed in the in­sti­tu­tion’s cor­re­spon­dence and on­line ad­ver­tise­ments as “the gate­way to Amer­ica, UK, Australia & New Zealand.”

The ex­cited stu­dents— most of them age 20-25—had all paid in ad­vance, via the In­ter­net or di­rectly to the school’s agents in In­dia and Nepal, tu­ition and other fees to­tal­ing over US$8,000 per ap­pli­cant, a huge amount in their dire cir­cum­stances, though not too much to pay for their en­vis­aged fu­ture. The money they had shelled out in their bid to es­cape the plight of the par­tic­u­larly poor in In­dia and Nepal had been bor­rowed by their par­ents from no­to­ri­ous loan sharks.

For their part, Lam­birds Academy had fur­nished the stu­dents with travel doc­u­ments that were ac­cepted with­out ques­tion on ar­rival at He­wanorra. All they had to do was present let­ters from Lam­birds that con­firmed their sta­tus. It didn’t seem to mat­ter to im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials that Lam­birds’ let­ters re­ferred to a Saint Lu­cia in “North Amer­ica.” They stamped the vis­i­tors’ visas and pass­ports, with­out ask­ing about how they planned to sup­port them­selves while in Saint Lu­cia. Had they both­ered to in­quire, the im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers would’ve dis­cov­ered, among other shock­ers, that the ar­rivals were broke but count­ing on jobs-jobs-jobs, this time promised by their hosts.

Wait­ing out­side was a ve­hi­cle chauf­fered by a Guyanese woman. She drove the tired but happy stu­dents to their ho­tel at Rod­ney Bay. It wouldn’t be long be­fore the smell of rat reached their nos­trils: at the re­cep­tion desk the stu­dents were asked to pay for their ac­com­mo­da­tion—for which they had al­ready forked out US$500 when they were still at home.

An ar­gu­ment en­sued, at which point their Guyanese chauf­feur, a Lam­birds op­er­a­tive, ca­su­ally in­formed them that they were free to find some other place to stay; it re­ally didn’t mat­ter much to her. And with that she walked away. The stu­dents had no other choice but to hand over what lit­tle cash they had.

An­other shock awaited the next day when they dis­cov­ered Lam­birds Academy was lo­cated above a small su­per­mar­ket in Gros Islet, with a cou­ple rooms barely large enough to ac­com­mo­date 10 stu­dents at one time. They also met their pro­fes­sors: part-time restau­rant work­ers, one of them a KFC staffer who ex­plained dur­ing their first class the dif­fer­ence be­tween a car­rot and a cab­bage.

Most of the stu­dents, though poor, were hardly id­iots. Some spoke three lan­guages, in­clud­ing English. One was a song­writer who had pub­lished five songs back in Nepal. Oth­ers held IT-re­lated cer­tifi­cates. They all had been led to be­lieve that af­ter they had grad­u­ated from Lam­birds and ac­quired their de­grees, mainly in tourism-re­lated sub­jects, they could move on to New York or Cal­i­for­nia for more school­ing and lu­cra­tive jobs in var­i­ous fields, in­clud­ing mu­sic.

On the other hand, they could choose to ap­ply for per­ma­nent res­i­dence here. Lam­birds had as­sured them this was a “very low-pop­u­lated coun­try. That is why the gov­ern­ment is very con­scious about the safety of the peo­ple, es­pe­cially tourists.”

More­over, “se­cu­rity is very tight so stu­dents have to be very care­ful about their be­hav­ior and anger which might lead to ex­pul­sion from the is­land.”

On the mat­ter of living quar­ters: “Since Saint Lu­cia is a tourist coun­try, usu­ally the rate of ac­com­mo­da­tion is rel­a­tively high. But you can min­i­mize it to the ground if you stay on shared premises. In­dian home­made food ser­vice is avail­able for lunch and din­ner as well as cheaper food is avail­able at Gate of In­dia restau­rant. In gen­eral, it varies be­tween US$200-$400 a month.” (No one men­tioned the owner of the par­tic­u­lar In­dian restau­rant!)

As for their travel pa­pers: “The visa is 100 per­cent ex­tend­able, sub­ject to you main­tain ad­mis­sion and visa reg­u­la­tions prop­erly. We will se­cure your visa on be­half of you. We help you to have new and up­graded cour­ses at Lam­birds Academy for fur­ther and higher stud­ies.

“Lam­birds Academy USA will be ready to ac­cept in­ter­na­tional stu­dents by next year. Lambird Saint Lu­cia stu­dents will get 100% credit trans­fer in that case. In a nut­shell, Lam­birds Saint Lu­cia is your gate­way to Amer­ica, Canada, UK, Australia & New Zealand.

“The big­gest op­por­tu­nity is set­tle­ment, op­por­tu­nity to ap­ply for per­ma­nent res­i­dence in Saint Lu­cia af­ter stay­ing two years on work per­mit. Af­ter get­ting PR it opens door of the rest of the world to find jobs and set­tle in the USA, Canada, Nether­lands, France, Spain and Australia.”

Re­al­ity soon con­fronted the stu­dents. Al­most ev­ery­thing Lam­birds had promised proved false. Those who com­plained to Dr. If­fekhar Ahmed Shams LLB, MBA, Ph.D were told, in ef­fect, to buzz off. They were as­sured that Shams was pro­tected by uniden­ti­fied pow­er­ful con­nec­tions that could make life most dif­fi­cult for un­co­op­er­a­tive stu­dents.

Three days af­ter the last batch of ar­rivals one of them took his life in his hands and re­ported to the po­lice his sus­pi­cion that he and sev­eral other young na­tives of In­dia and Nepal had been conned out of thou­sands of dol­lars by the CEO of Lam­birds, Dr. Shams.

It didn’t take long be­fore the po­lice were also con­vinced of Shams’ sham. He and four ac­com­plices were ar­rested— and then the sticky stuff hit the fan.

It turns out that If­fekhar Shams is a na­tive of Bangladesh. He first ap­plied for a visa to en­ter Saint Lu­cia in April 2014. This ap­pli­ca­tion was de­nied. Barely two weeks later an­other ap­pli­ca­tion in his name was ap­proved, on the rec­om­men­da­tion of In­vest Saint Lu­cia that claimed Shams wished to par­tic­i­pate in the gov­ern­ment’s highly pub­li­cized “in­vestor fo­rum.”

Ev­i­dently Shams never re­turned home. In­stead, he joined a com­pany op­er­ated by the ini­tial ap­pli­cant for his visa—as a direc­tor.

I have been re­li­ably in­formed that ini­tially im­por­tant gov­ern­ment agen­cies were re­luc­tant to co­op­er­ate with po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors into what ap­peared to de­tec­tives to be a well-or­ga­nized crim­i­nal con­spir­acy. The Min­istry of Com­merce—re­spon­si­ble for is­su­ing per­mits ap­proved by its trade li­cens­ing board—re­fused to hand over im­por­tant files, un­til con­fronted with a search war­rant.

It soon came to light that the min­istry may have had self­ish rea­sons for keep­ing the Lam­birds file away from po­lice eyes. For a start, my sources say, an ap­pli­ca­tion for a trade li­cense in the name of Shams was first sub­mit­ted by In­vest Saint Lu­cia di­rectly to the

Some of the In­dian and Nepalese stu­dents al­legedly lured to “Saint Lu­cia, North Amer­ica” by hu­man traf­fick­ers are cur­rently be­ing housed at the Pas­toral Cen­ter in Cas­tries. Five in­di­vid­u­als, in­clud­ing a na­tive of Bangladesh are in po­lice cus­tody. Mean­while, the gov­ern­ment has

an­nounced an­other “in­de­pen­dent in­quiry” headed by a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter.

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