Judge De­liv­ers Shock Ver­dict!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

De­spite that there had been count­less al­le­ga­tions of the nas­ti­est kind lev­eled at him by of­fi­cials of the Kenny An­thony govern­ment in the months lead­ing up to the 2006 gen­eral elec­tions, news of Richard Fred­er­ick’s ar­rest on the morn­ing of June 18, 2007 shook the na­tion to its core. As con­tro­ver­sial a fig­ure as he had been dur­ing the pre­vi­ous four years or so, de­spite be­ing de­clared “the most fright­en­ing prospect” fac­ing pol­i­tics in Saint Lu­cia by Labour Party leader and prime min­is­ter Kenny An­thony, Fred­er­ick had nev­er­the­less emerged the star of the gen­eral elec­tions, hav­ing stopped dead in their tracks an over-con­fi­dent sit­ting at­tor­ney gen­eral (Philip La Corbiniere) and af­ter him Vaughan Lewis, a for­mer prime min­is­ter. The 2006 gen­eral elec­tions were pre­ceded by a con­test for the all-im­por­tant Cas­tries Cen­tral seat, pre­vi­ously held - as now! - by Sarah Flood-Beaubrun.

The ar­rest it­self had been nearly as dra­matic as the tele­vised ar­rest of O.J. Simp­son: an un­marked po­lice trans­port had blocked Fred­er­ick’s parked ve­hi­cle and ar­rested him as he dis­em­barked near S&S, with scores of mid­morn­ing shop­pers, be­mused street ven­dors and sus­pi­cious layabouts look­ing on in amaze­ment. Mean­while ex­cited TV re­porters had ma­te­ri­al­ized at the scene as if mag­i­cally. Even the lead ar­rest­ing of­fi­cer fea­tured his own un­usual mark­ings: he was one of eight re­tired Cau­casian po­lice of­fi­cers im­ported by the Kenny An­thony govern­ment three years or so be­fore the elec­tions.

More me­dia per­son­nel awaited Fred­er­ick’s ar­rival at the Gros Islet po­lice sta­tion, where the MP would be in­ter­ro­gated for sev­eral hours be­fore he was per­mit­ted to re­turn to his min­istry. Out­side the sta­tion he was mobbed by plac­ard-bear­ing, chant­ing ad­mir­ers. There would be more in­ter­ro­ga­tions in the weeks ahead, all af­forded full press cov­er­age. High-end ve­hi­cles were re­moved from the min­is­ter’s home and taken into po­lice cus­tody. No charges were ever laid. On Fred­er­ick’s own ap­pli­ca­tion in 2009, a mag­is­trate later or­dered the re­turn of the ve­hi­cles—hav­ing de­prived their re­spec­tive own­ers of their use for some 856 days. But that was hardly the end of the mat­ter, as we shall see.

But let us re­turn to the be­gin­ning—long be­fore Fred­er­ick’s con­tro­ver­sial ar­rest. (In his cir­cum­stances he could’ve been re­quired to visit the po­lice sta­tion at his con­ve­nience. Or he could’ve re­ceived his in­ter­roga­tors at his min­istry, with­out tip­ping off the press. Af­ter all, it wasn’t as if the po­lice were ready to charge him with an of­fence. In all events, this news­pa­per was first to re­port in May 2007 that govern­ment of Saint Lu­cia of­fi­cials had sought over­seas as­sis­tance in ob­tain­ing in­for­ma­tion about “three Miami-based car deal­er­ships and two ex­porters for use in a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.” I had also been reli­ably in­formed of the iden­ti­ties of the “tar­gets of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion”: the broth­ers Richard and Lu­cas Fred­er­ick, and Joseph Au­guste.

More point­edly, the ap­pli­ca­tion for ju­di­cial as­sis­tance from the United States ex­plained: “The Cus­toms and Ex­cise De­part­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Richard Fred­er­ick and oth­ers with re­spect to fraud­u­lent eva­sion of cus­toms du­ties re­lated to the im­por­ta­tion of mo­tor ve­hi­cles. In fur­ther­ance of their crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings, the law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties are re­quest­ing cer­ti­fied busi­ness records from car deal­er­ships and freight com­pa­nies in Miami, Florida. The amount of tax be­lieved to have been evaded is at least US$30,281.”

The day fol­low­ing pub­li­ca­tion of the above, Fred­er­ick said dur­ing a re­lated Ra­dio 100 in­ter­view: “I don’t un­der­stand. If they feel I have sub­mit­ted wrong in­voices, then hold my ve­hi­cles. Do what you have to do. I re­ally don’t think . . . [the lawyer in his soul may have been cau­tion­ing him not to say any­thing that could later be used against him] but it may be so, that it was the cus­toms de­part­ment that started this in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­cause the as­sis­tance re­quest was sent by the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice . . .” Again a cau­tion­ary pause. “Can you imag­ine . . . had my party not won the elec­tions, who knows what doc­u­ments might have been fab­ri­cated to en­sure a penalty was im­posed on me for some­thing I would not have known about?”

Asked by his in­ter­viewer what he planned to do about the ob­vi­ously em­bar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tion, Fred­er­ick replied: “What I am hoping is that they [the U.S. au­thor­i­ties] will re­spond to the cur­rent at­tor­ney gen­eral about their find­ings. I have noth­ing to hide.” In all events, he added, the treat­ment given his case was most un­usual. He had rep­re­sented sev­eral im­porters sus­pected by cus­toms of un­der-in­voic­ing but none were treated as he had been.

He smelled a rat: “I don’t sub­scribe to wrong-do­ing. I have found my­self in pol­i­tics and ob­vi­ously I rocked some boats. If be­ing a min­is­ter of govern­ment means one has to be wicked and vin­dic­tive, then I might as well get out. I came into pol­i­tics to rep­re­sent peo­ple, to make their lives bet­ter, not to pe­nal­ize them for no good rea­son.”

When soon af­ter­ward I gave the for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral the op­por­tu­nity to tackle how Fred­er­ick had re­acted to his of­fice’s ap­pli­ca­tion for ju­di­cial as­sis­tance un­der the Mu­tual Le­gal As­sis­tance In Crim­i­nal Mat­ters Treaty be­tween the U.S. and Saint Lu­cia, this was what Philip La Corbiniere said: “I can deny cat­e­gor­i­cally that at no time were the of­fices of the prime min­is­ter and the at­tor­ney gen­eral used to vic­tim­ize Mr. Fred­er­ick. The state­ments by Mr. Fred­er­ick in that re­gard are mis­lead­ing, false and have no ba­sis in fact.”

Ad­di­tion­ally: “The United States of Amer­ica and Saint Lu­cia would be duty-bound to refuse any re­quest that ap­pears to be po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated. Mr. Fred­er­ick has in­di­cated he in­tends to com­mu­ni­cate with the new at­tor­ney gen­eral con­cern­ing this mat­ter. In the con­text of any in­ves­ti­ga­tion this would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate.”

In the interim lawyers rep­re­sent­ing Fred­er­ick filed a con­sti­tu­tional mo­tion for un­law­ful ar­rest and de­ten­tion, and for un­law­ful de­ten­tion of his ve­hi­cles. Last month Jus­tice Smith ruled that there was no ev­i­dence on which an ar­rest could’ve been based. He also held that the de­ten­tion of Fred­er­ick’s ve­hi­cles was un­law­ful. Mean­while, Fred­er­ick’s lawyers have filed sub­mis­sions for dam­ages.

Then Hous­ing Min­is­ter Richard Fred­er­ick with his guardian An­gel out­side the Gros Islet po­lice sta­tion, fol­low­ing hours of in­ter­ro­ga­tion in re­la­tion to al­leged un­der-in­voic­ing of im­ported cars. The year was 2007!

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