Can Caribbean gov’ts jail officials?

Former Barbadian government minister Donville Inniss.
Photo by George Alleyne

In spite of corruption allegations being frequently levelled at Caribbean government officials, the region has a poor track record of public administrators being prosecuted and jailed.

Revelations last weekend that the United States government has what it claims is evidence of bribe-taking by other Barbados government officials in addition to that alleged against former minister Donville Inniss, has brought to the fore the question of whether Caribbean governments are able to prosecute and jail elected officials accused of corruption.

Barbados’ Sunday Sun newspaper reported on US prosecutors alleging that the Insurance Corporation of Barbados Ltd. (ICBL), the company which admitted to complicity in a bribe-giving allegation against Inniss, has also made similarly illegal payments to others.

Inniss was in August 2018 arrested in Florida and charged with one count of conspiracy to launder money and two counts of money laundering.

Placed on $50,000, he was brought to New York for a further federal court hearing.

The US Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York stated, “the charges stem from Inniss’ acceptance of bribes from a Barbadian insurance company in 2015 and 2016 when he was a public official.”

He allegedly conspired with persons in a Barbados company, ICBL, to pay him $36,000 for using his authority to ensure that the firm’s million-dollar contract with a state-owned agency “under his ministerial portfolio is renewed.”

The US Attorney’s Office alleged that he conspired to hide the payment by having the money sent to a New York dental company, then into his bank account through several transfers.

Inniss’ trial was set for last Friday but his attorneys requested more time to a date to be announced after the US prosecutors made the revelation of other bribe-taking.

“The (US) government has disclosed evidence to the defendant that ICBL made payments to other government officials in Barbados,” the Sunday Sun newspaper quoted from court documents.

“The charges against the defendant are entirely unrelated to other payments that ICBL made to other government officials.”

This US government disclosure, without giving names, of other alleged bribe-takers at this time was apparently aimed at halting any defence contention that government officials taking money from companies is commonplace, so Inniss was not out of order and no one has been prosecuted for such a crime in Barbados.

“The court should preclude the defendant from introducing evidence or argument concerning Barbadian criminal law enforcement, including that he has not to date been charged publicly in Barbados with any crimes,” the prosecutors added.

“Any evidence or argument concerning the action taken or not taken by Barbadian criminal law enforcement is irrelevant to the issues for the jury at trial. Whether the defendant to date has been charged in Barbados, or whether the Barbadian authorities are investigating the defendant does not make it more (or) less probable that the defendant promoted violations of the Barbados Prevention Of Corruption Act by accepting bribe payments in connection with his official duties.”

The prosecution’s rush to erase Inniss’ potential defence that he was not charged in Barbados so he did not commit an offence makes relevant a contention by University of the West indies, Cave Hill Campus, political scientist specialising in regional affairs, Tennyson Joseph, who has contended that Caribbean governments do not prosecute and jail officials for corruption.

“Despite our constant assertion that we are free and sovereign people, we constantly undermine this aspiration by our abrogation of our responsibility to fully prosecute the upper and upper-middle sections of our populations, and by our cowardly, infantile and irresponsible habit of informally transferring that responsibility to the US justice system,” he said last August shortly after Inniss was charged.

While making clear that his opinion is not on whether the former government minister is guilty, he said, “whilst on one side of our mouths we condemn the US for interfering in our internal affairs, on the other we cheer and celebrate the extradition of ‘Big Boys,’ we revel in the revocation of their US visas, and we wallow in their arrests on US soil.”

Months after Inniss was charged, ICBL’s Bermuda-based parent company, BF&M, stated that it had made a settlement with the US Department of Justice because of “ICBL’s swift self-disclosure of the payments to the DOJ, the robust cooperation of its board and management, and the company’s remediation, including the fact that all executives and employees involved in the misconduct are no longer at the company.”

But in another example of what is angering political scientist, Joseph, American authorities in January unsealed documents naming former Barbados insurance executives, Alex Tasker and Ingrid Inness as the persons who allegedly conspired with Donville Inniss to launder money in the United States.

Revelation of the names of Tasker, a former senior vice-president of Insurance Corporation of Barbados, and Inness, a former ICBL Chief Executive ended months of speculation by Barbadians about who were the persons alleged to have bribed Inniss.

Tasker is Barbadian and Inness, a Canadian resident in Barbados.

These persons are yet to be charged in Barbados.

Joseph had stated “unless the Caribbean musters the political will to prosecute and incarcerate white-collar criminals, and as long as this task continues to be shifted to the US, we will always be less than sovereign”.

“The ability of the US to charge and prosecute persons who are untouchable in the Caribbean, will condemn us as ‘banana republics,’ and despite all its other evils, the US will be imbued with legitimacy to interfere in our internal affairs.

“It’s no coincidence the easiest route adopted by the US when seeking to undermine the region’s leaders is to paint them with a brush of criminality.”

Political scientist specialising in regional affairs, Tennyson Joseph.
Photo by George Alleyne

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