Published On: Wed, Apr 9th, 2014

St Lucia eyes economic citizenship programme

Kenny AnthonyCASTRIES, St Lucia -- Another Caribbean nation is giving consideration to an economic citizenship programme. Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony said the introduction of a citizenship by investment programme would be an effort to boost inward investment.

Describing the current economic climate as “severe, debilitating and oppressive,” Anthony, who is preparing to present the 2014/15 national budget, said Saint Lucia may well have to look at initiatives that it once “frowned upon.”

“This is a difficult environment perhaps calling for different responses,” he said.

“I think we cannot close our eyes because it’s an option we may have to consider and in so doing we may have to look at the experiences of other countries,” Anthony told reporters.

He said Saint Lucia as a country has “huge problems on our hands,” stating that what was rejected previously will now have to be re-examined.

The news that Saint Lucia is considering an economic citizenship programme, which grants citizenship to individuals who invest money in a country's development, prompted a vigorous response from Therold Prudent, the leader of the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM).

“The decision of the government of Saint Lucia to entertain the idea of economic citizenship is another glaring example of how desperate it has become for foreign money,” Prudent said.

According to Prudent, at this point, it really does not matter who is offering the money, or what the ramifications are for the country.

“How do you even begin a debate on economic citizenship when you cannot even control criminal activities in your own nation? Opening the door to a form of investment that the nation does not have the ability to regulate would no doubt turn Saint Lucia into a haven for money launderers and international criminals,” he said.

Prudent said it is also very hypocritical of the government of Saint Lucia to entertain the concept of economic citizenship to total strangers, when it has done everything in its power to undermine the contribution of its own citizens.

“How can you contemplate a new form of economic colonialism, while denying Saint Lucian citizens their rights to form political organizations, and participate without harassment in the economic and political development of the country? Saint Lucia belongs to the people of Saint Lucia, and not to a single political entity, which believes it can infringe at will the rights of its people, while parceling the country out to strangers in exchange for blood money,” he concluded.

Such citizenship by investment programmes are actively promoted by at least four other Caribbean countries – Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada and St Kitts and Nevis.

However these programmes are coming under increasing scrutiny in Washington as a result of recent revelations of US sanctions evasion by some of these economic citizens and their companies.

According to one well-placed US intelligence source in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity, provided the necessary congressional approvals are forthcoming, the United States will come down on these citizenship programmes with a very heavy hand.

In the meantime, a new inter-agency task force has reportedly been set up between authorities in the US and Britain to investigate the allegations of sanctions-busting.

The issue in relation to St Kitts and Nevis was most recently raised by former government minister Dwyer Astaphan, who addressed the issue on his local Operation Rescue radio programme and also in an op-ed piece.

“Information has reached Operation Rescue that one of those companies is involved in a project in St Kitts and Nevis. The US Treasury Department is looking at it very watchfully and at least one person is being looked at in relation to facing penalties by the United States,” Astaphan told his radio audience.

The lawyer and former minister of national security and tourism had previously identified a number of questionable recipients of St Kitts and Nevis economic citizenship, including Pourya Nayebi, an Iranian, who is at the centre of a US Treasury Department investigation into companies in Switzerland and elsewhere for evading US sanctions against Iran, along with two other Iranians, who reportedly also hold St Kitts and Nevis passports.

Nayebi is reportedly associated with a network of entities, the ultimate control and direction of which rests with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khomeini through an organisation known as EIKO (the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order), also known as SETAD, which oversees a labyrinth of at least 37, seemingly private companies, and countless subsidiaries and associate entities, spread all over the world.

According to the US Treasury Department, the purpose of this network is to generate and control massive, off-the-books investments, shielded from the view of the Iranian people and international regulators. Reuters has estimated the estimated the total assets of EIKO at $95 billion.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) has blacklisted a number of EIKO holding companies and their many subsidiaries, including Tosee Eqtesad Ayandehsazan Company (TEACO), Tadbir Economic Development Company (Tadbir Group) and Rey Investment Company.

Astaphan has not disclosed the identity of the company or companies in the EIKO network alleged to be involved in a development project in St Kitts and Nevis, or the massive land purchases he said are being considered by interests related to EIKO.

However, according to other media reports, a blacklisted company in the Tadbir Group is associated with a resort development group said to be Dubai based, which has new and existing projects in Dominica and St Kitts.

Dr Timothy Harris, leader of the opposition coalition Team Unity in St Kitts and Nevis, said, “We know that Canada, US and the European Union will not allow their borders to be penetrated by persons of dubious characters. We stand a real risk that either our visa free access to Canada and Europe will be discontinued or our economic citizens will be denied access to Canada, US, UK and the Shengen area of Europe.”

In Grenada, where the previous iteration of its citizenship by investment programme was abandoned amid high profile frauds by Grenadian economic citizens and allegations of government corruption, the programme was reinstated last year but has since run into renewed controversy.

Specifically, allegations of conflicts of interest have been made following the appointment of the wife of Foreign Minister Nicholas Steele and the wife of David Holukoff, chair of the Citizenship by Investment Committee, as approved passport agents. Further, Holukoff’s wife also sits as chair of the board of directors of the Grenada Industrial Development Corporation to whom such economic citizen-investors will be applying for tax concessions.

In addition, the citizenship by investment legislation enacted just last year has recently been amended to remove the statutory requirement for disclosure of the names, addresses and nationalities of those who have applied for Grenadian citizenship.

Similar conflict of interest issues arise in St Kitts where, in 2012, Range Developments, the developers of the Park Hyatt St Kitts, employed Ellena Skerritt, the wife of St Kitts and Nevis tourism minister, Senator Richard ‘Ricky’ Skerritt, as its “Business Development Director”. Her employment lasted one year according to publicly available information but a representative of Range’s public relations firm stated just last month that she is still employed by the company.

Range Developments is currently advertising extensively online, promoting the St Kitts and Nevis citizenship by investment programme through investment in its Park Hyatt St Kitts project.

In the meantime, a self-described “Citizenship by Investment and International Residence Middle East Summit” is due to be held in Dubai at the end of this month and, according to the organisers, the event will include cabinet members representing Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, and St Kitts and Nevis.

Specifically, Harold Lovell, minister of finance and economy, Antigua and Barbuda; Richard 'Ricky' Skerritt, minister of international trade, industry, commerce and consumer affairs, St Kitts and Nevis; and Nicholas Steele, minister for foreign affairs and international business, Grenada, are so far listed as speaking at the event.

Other speakers listed include Rosalyn Hazelle, CEO of the St Kitts Investment Promotion Agency, and Mohammed Asaria, vice chairman of Range Developments.

The governments of Dominica and St Kitts and Nevis did not respond to requests for comment.

By Caribbean News Now contributor

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