IS ISL IN­VEST­ING IN DIS­IN­FOR­MA­TION?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

A s I write, the lat­est word on Lam­birds­gate is that our jus­tice min­is­ter has de­cided to repa­tri­ate to earth­quake-rav­aged Nepal some 30 home­less, heart-bro­ken, pen­ni­less and des­per­ate vic­tims of al­leged hu­man traf­fick­ers and money laun­der­ers who for sev­eral months had been op­er­at­ing as for­eign in­vestors in Saint Lu­cia, fa­cil­i­tated by lo­cal of­fi­cials, whether or not in­ad­ver­tently.

Now free on bail, the ac­cused are sched­uled later this month to ap­pear be­fore a mag­is­trate—con­ceiv­ably in the ab­sence of the young stu­dents whom the po­lice say were lured to Saint Lu­cia by se­duc­tive ad­ver­tise­ments that promised spe­cial school­ing and lu­cra­tive job op­por­tu­ni­ties here and in the United States.

I am re­li­ably in­formed that the an­nounced im­mi­nent repa­tri­a­tion is con­trary to di­rec­tives from the of­fice of the Direc­tor of Public Pros­e­cu­tions. Ac­cord­ing to the stu­dents, lo­cal of­fi­cials had threat­ened them only last week that if they re­fused for any rea­son to re­turn home with the as­sis­tance of the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Migration, they would suf­fer the long-term con­se­quences of de­por­ta­tion.

Some had re­sisted for fear they would later find them­selves out of sight and out of mind. Oth­ers ex­pressed con­cern that if they took up the IOM’s of­fer the po­lice would be with­out wit­nesses sup­port­ive of their charges: they be­lieve that with­out them there is ev­ery chance the po­lice would be forced to aban­don their case—which would spare the gov­ern­ment pos­si­ble em­bar­rass­ment. And then there were the stu­dents who no longer had homes to re­turn to, and whose rel­a­tives had been threat­ened by loan sharks determined to have their pound of flesh by what­ever means.

So much for the fleeced. Now for the al­leged sheep shear­ers, lead among them a Bangladeshi na­tive self­de­scribed as Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Shams LLB, PhD (Lon)—all qual­i­fi­ca­tions yet to be proved valid— Pres­i­dent & CEO of Lam­birds Academy, sit­u­ated at “Dauphin Street, Gross Islet, Saint Lu­cia, North Amer­ica.”

Shams came to Saint Lu­cia for the first time to at­tend a two-day in­au­gu­ral Saint Lu­cia In­vest­ment Fo­rum in May last year, ac­cord­ing to Emma Hip­polyte, the min­is­ter in charge of com­merce and busi­ness devel­op­ment in Saint Lu­cia, and by the cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer at ISL, whose CEO is McHale An­drew, an­swer­able to the afore­men­tioned gov­ern­ment min­is­ter and MP for Gros (not Gross!) Islet.

To the best of her knowl­edge, Hip­polyte has said, Shams at­tended the re­called in­vest­ment fo­rum “in re­sponse to an open in­vi­ta­tion posted on the in­ter­net to any po­ten­tial in­vestor in­ter­ested in do­ing busi­ness in Saint Lu­cia.”

The Bangladeshi’s pres­ence at the fo­rum marked the “first in­ter­face be­tween Dr. Shams of Lam­birds Academy and In­vest Saint Lu­cia,” Hip­polyte added.

As noted in an ear­lier pub­lished STAR fea­ture on this mat­ter, the last quoted state­ment is not al­to­gether kosher. The of­fi­cial record proves there was no Lam­birds Academy here at the time of the ISL fo­rum.

As for the date of the min­is­ter’s quoted state­ment be­fore the House, it was Tues­day, 29 April 2015—by which time the po­lice had found good rea­son to not only shut down Lam­birds Academy but also to hit its CEO and as­so­ciates with at least eight counts of hu­man traf­fick­ing, forty-six counts of ob­tain­ing by de­cep­tion, money laun­der­ing, fraud and so on.

On the oc­ca­sion of her House state­ment, Hip­polyte ex­plained with­out ques­tion why she had taken the un­usual step of per­son­ally ap­prov­ing a par­tic­u­lar ap­pli­ca­tion with­out the knowl­edge of her min­istry’s Trade Li­cens­ing Ad­vi­sory Board.

“On 2 June 2014,” she re­called, “an ap­pli­ca­tion for a trade li­cense was lodged at the Min­istry of Com­merce on be­half of Lam­birds Academy Inc.” On the same day she had also re­ceived “a copy of that same ap­pli­ca­tion with a cover let­ter from In­vest Saint Lu­cia ... The in­vestor was ap­par­ently in ur­gent need to trans­act busi­ness and the trade li­cense was needed in or­der for this to oc­cur.” She did not say who had signed the all-im­por­tant cover let­ter.

With all kinds of spec­u­la­tion swirling over its shad­owy con­nec­tion with Lam­birds, ISL de­cided re­cently to clear the air via a press re­lease that might eas­ily have em­anated from the mind of a de­fense lawyer with no case.

In part, it read: “Whilst ev­ery cit­i­zen has a right to en­quire and to be right­fully con­cerned about this mat­ter, ISL is of the firm view that we must not be too quick to draw in­valid ref­er­ences and to ac­cept, with­out more, base­less ac­cu­sa­tions and false con­clu­sons.”

More­over: “As it stands, the charges against the agents of Lam­birds Academy are still al­le­ga­tions, which are to be de­cided by a jury and it is in­deed im­proper to try this mat­ter in the court of public opin­ion . . . It can be cat­e­gor­i­cally stated that In­vest Saint Lu­cia did NOT specif­i­cally in­vite Lam­birds Academy to Saint Lu­cia, but Lam­birds ac­cepted a gen­eral in­vi­ta­tion, is­sued on­line and in the lo­cal, re­gional and in­ter­na­tional me­dia, to at­tend the in­au­gu­ral Saint Lu­cia In­vest­ment Fo­rum in May 2014.”

Fur­ther: “There was never and has not since been any at­tempt by In­vest Saint Lu­cia to hide the facts or ob­fus­cate in­for­ma­tion re­lated to the mat­ter. In­vest Saint Lu­cia’s only in­ter­est has been to en­sure that the es­tab­lished pro­cesses for in­vest­ment fa­cil­i­ta­tion and estab­lish­ment are fol­lowed and in­deed, not only have we stead­fastly main­tained that po­si­tion but had on sev­eral oc­ca­sions com­mu­ni­cated to Iftekhar Shams the need to abide by the es­tab­lished rules, reg­u­la­tions and laws ap­pli­ca­ble to the estab­lish­ment of his busi­ness.”

Did the “es­tab­lished rules” also re­quire Shams to be in Saint Lu­cia legally? Did ISL con­firm he held a valid visa?

Ac­cord­ing to ISL’s re­lease: “The req­ui­site due dili­gence pro­to­cols were fol­lowed and re­turned noth­ing ad­verse ei­ther in re­la­tion to Lam­birds Academy, which had al­ready es­tab­lished a pres­ence in the USA, or to its agents . . .”

So who are those peo­ple who have been “try­ing this mat­ter in the court of public opin­ion?” As ISL cor­rectly notes in its re­lease, the public has ev­ery good rea­son to be con­cerned about our coun­try’s over­seas im­age, sul­lied as al­ready it is by IMPACS-re­lated in­ter­net pub­lic­ity, to say noth­ing of al­le­ga­tions of count­less ex­am­ples of of­fi­cial cor­rup­tion also on the in­ter­net, placed there by mind­less politi­cians and their un­think­ing hacks. And while it re­mains for the po­lice to prove their case in court, that does not mean the public should shut its eyes and mouth in the face of seem­ing im­ped­i­ments in the way of jus­tice.

It can­not be a com­fort to the public mind when the ISL is­sues mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion about Lam­birds. The prof­fered ex­pla­na­tions for go­ing over the heads of the Trade Li­cense Ad­vi­sory Board are cause for pause: the ap­pli­cant for a trade li­cense “was ap­par­ently in ur­gent need to trans­act busi­ness.” Isn’t ev­ery po­ten­tial in­vestor, for­eign or lo­cal? Is an ap­pli­cant’s im­pa­tience more im­por­tant than due dili­gence?

Con­sider the fol­low­ing, also from ISL’s press re­lease: “When ad­vised by a se­nior of­fi­cer of ISL, af­ter com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the Min­istry of Com­merce etc., that the said Board had not met in months and was un­likely to meet in the near fu­ture, In­vest Saint Lu­cia . . . re­sub­mit­ted the ap­pli­ca­tion di­rectly to the Min­is­ter for her con­sid­er­a­tion.”

Doubt­less with good rea­son, ISL un­der­scored the last quoted word

con­sid­er­a­tion.

What pre­cisely does ISL mean by “the said Board had not met in months and was un­likely to meet in the near fu­ture?” How did ISL come by that dis­turb­ing re­port? In any case, the min­is­ter claimed she had re­ceived the two ap­pli­ca­tions (one with a cover let­ter) on the same day!

Again the record tor­pe­does ISL’s al­le­ga­tion. The Trade Li­cense Ad­vi­sory Board met on 21 Jan­uary; 13 March; 8 April; 10 June; 8 July; 26 Au­gust; 14

Oc­to­ber; 9 De­cem­ber—all in 2014.

Let us not for­get the in­vest­ment fo­rum was a two-days-in-May af­fair. A trade li­cense meet­ing was at the time sched­uled for and did take place on 10 June 2014.

The voodoo pre­dic­tion that the board “was not likely to meet in the near fu­ture” sounds a lot like a shep­herd bleat­ing to his sheep.

A lit­tle homework, by which I mean due dili­gence re­lated to Shams’ at­ten­dance at the fo­rum, might well have re­vealed his con­ver­sa­tion with a cer­tain in­formed public of­fi­cial, with whom he dis­cussed his plans for a med­i­cal school. The of­fi­cial was taken aback. She told Shams of the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to put on hold ap­pli­ca­tions to op­er­ate such fa­cil­i­ties here—at which point Shams sud­denly de­vel­oped a new in­ter­est in a culi­nary school.

As for a Lam­birds Academy in the US of A: how did ISL come by that bit of in­for­ma­tion? Was the source Shams him­self? Shams’ brother? When was the dis­cov­ery made? What is the his­tory of Lam­birds USA, which fea­tures in the academy’s ad­ver­tise­ments pub­lished in such places as In­dia, Africa, Nepal, the Philip­ines and right here in Saint Lu­cia where clearly any­thing goes?

For now I need say only that the an­swers to my ques­tions will prove how ef­fec­tive has been our due dili­gence over the years and the price paid for such ef­fec­tive­ness.

Again for the record: Dr. Shams was turned away the first time he sought an en­try visa that would per­mit him to visit Saint Lu­cia. Did ISL’s “due dili­gence” un­cover that? Which raises an­other point: the White Pa­per on eco­nomic cit­i­zen­ship pre­pared by Vaughan Lewis, with a lit­tle help from friend and col­league McHale An­drew, rightly places much em­pha­sis on our coun­try’s se­cu­rity.

Af­ter all, we live in par­tic­u­larly danger­ous times. Yet the ISL (one more I and we’d have an ISIL re­cruit­ment cen­ter right here in Saint Lu­cia!) re­lease sar­cas­ti­cally points out its in­vi­ta­tion did not go out only to Dr. Shams, that it was an “open in­vi­ta­tion on the in­ter­net.”

Yes, open to all and sundry: con­men, pimps, snake-oil sales­men, ISIL re­cruiters, money laun­der­ers, toute moon— ap­par­ently with no time-wast­ing back­ground checks.

It may be worth not­ing that one of the other non-na­tion­als now fac­ing se­ri­ous charges re­lated to Lam­birds came to Saint Lu­cia as “a de­pen­dent.” His wife was at the time a stu­dent at AIM-U, now about to have its own skirts lifted to the sky.

The par­tic­u­lar In­dian gen­tle­man not only was al­lowed to stay here way past his of­fi­cially al­lot­ted time, but he also worked for some time at the school where his wife was a stu­dent. Did he bother to ac­quire a work per­mit? Visa ex­ten­sions? When was he granted his trade li­cense (if at all he was)?

Did any­one check whether he was here legally? Did no one smell a rat when days af­ter ar­rival in Saint Lu­cia, cour­tesy ISL, Shams was made a direc­tor in his fel­low In­dian’s now sus­pect busi­ness? Does ISL know who cooked up the Lam­birds callaloo?

A most im­por­tant ques­tion re­mains: What does McHale An­drew know that he has not told? A press con­fer­ence would go a long way to­ward sooth­ing that public headache!

The Home Af­fairs per­ma­nent sec­re­tary (yel­low t-shirt) with al­leged hu­man

traf­fick­ing vic­tims at the Pas­toral Cen­ter at Bois d’Or­ange.

In­vest St. Lu­cia CEO McHale An­drew: Is his open in­vi­ta­tion to po­ten­tial in­vestors prov­ing to be more than ISL bar­gained for?

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