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Passports and CIP – Is Antigua Citizenship being Devalued

Passports and CIPAny program or scheme to sell Antigua passports touches a raw nerve for Antiguans.  The Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP) has done just that.

Being aware of the ability for this initiative to evoke retaliatory sentiments, the opposition Antigua Labour Party has billed the CIP as the sale of passports rather than the sale of citizenship.

This has provoked the desired effect. The media too has an interest in stimulating sensationalism that would guarantee the sale of its services. They too have labeled the CIP as the sale of passports. When the bill passed in parliament the news in the Daily Observer 2 July 2013 read, ‘Passports by Investment Rules Passed’.

The Proceeds of Crime Amendment Bill 2014 which puts the burden of proof on the accused is probably intended to give some comfort to citizens that the CIP is immunized from bribery and corruption. But Antiguans are suspicious, wary and promptly agitated over shady dealings with their passports. More than likely, this is because the historical experience of the Antigua passport has been an extremely embarrassing one.

The first major scandal involving an Antigua passport was in 1981.  United States financier, Robert Vesco, was accused by the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) of embezzling US $220 million from four different Investors Overseas Service (IOS) funds and was on the run. The fugitive landed in Antigua.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) paper, Vol. X, Study 4, by Douglas W. Payne, titled ‘THE FAILINGS OF GOVERNANCE IN ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA’, “The government issued him an Antiguan passport under a different name and provided a new registration for his yacht. In exchange, Vesco made monthly cash payments to the government through Lester Bird”. Vesco subsequently attempted to purchase half of Barbuda in order to establish a principality.

The new passport, new name and ‘new’ yacht enabled Vesco to continue to travel and do business escaping detection by the United States. According to the same source, “…when the United States became aware of Vesco’s presence on Antigua and asked for his arrest and extradition, Lester Bird tipped off Vesco so that he could make his escape, first to Costa Rica and then to Cuba”. Indeed, the scandal shocked the small nation immensely. It was the greatest international crime involving a government sanctioned passport.

Then hushed rumors began to circulate that Antiguan passports were for sale. It was rumored that the Antigua Embassy in the United States was selling passports. The Antigua Consulate in Honk Kong was also rumored to be selling passports. The Hispanic community in Antigua was rumored to be buying passports. Very little could be confirmed.

“In September 1994 the Daily Observer reported that Bill Cheung, Antigua and Barbuda’s consul in Hong Kong, had in the early 1990s sold Antiguan passports and visas for as much as $20,000 apiece to Chinese seeking to travel to the United States. The newspaper cited evidence that Cheung had done so with the written authorization of then foreign minister Lester Bird who, in 1989, had appointed Cheung as special economic envoy in Hong Kong” (Payne. CSIS Vol. X Study 4).

Retired High Court Judge, Horace L. Mitchell, was commissioned to inquire into the affair. Mitchell found “…that while Lester had in fact authorized the issuance of such passports and visas, he had not acted out of personal favor or in contravention of Antiguan law”. “Acrobatically reaching for precedent,” Payne states, “Mitchell noted that the United Nations had issued travel documents to Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka so that he could travel from Nigeria to France, and that if the United Nations could do it, a U.N. member state should be able to do it as well”.

Then there was another probe. After a spate of terror across Washington D.C., John Allen Muhammad was caught in October 2002 and revealed to be the D.C. sniper. A young clerk in a bank was confident that he recognized Muhammad. The clerk claimed that the ‘sniper’ was Antiguan and he could prove it. Muhammad had gone to the bank to do a transaction and he had photocopied his passport. The passport made front-page in the Daily Observer.  The D.C. Sniper had an Antigua passport! U.S. authorities were cock-sure that Muhammad was not Antiguan.  Another inquiry was held to determine how a non-citizen acquired an Antigua passport.

Many Antiguans were of the opinion that both inquiries were farces. It was felt by many that the terms-of-reference, scope and investigation of the inquiries were insufficient. Envoy, Bill Cheung was not allowed to testify. Selected files were given to both inquiries. The retired judge seemed to have missed the point completely. If Bird did not benefit then where did the money go, and who benefitted? To avert further embarrassment, instead of recalling the passports, the government instituted a system whereby holders of expired passports applied for a new one as though it was the first.

What is strange, bizarre, even surreal, is that the persons who are now most vocal and expressive about the “watering down” of Antiguan citizenship and the value of passports were conspicuously sworn silent and quiet at the time when others were agitating that the whole situation was a shame to the nation.

Politics therefore seems like a playfield devoid of any rules of ethics, principles, morals, scruples or inherent beliefs. But may be construed as opportunistic, lapping, shape-shifting waves: ebbing and flowing, sometimes high, sometimes low, without consistency, just sufficient to snatch its helpless meal from the unsuspecting shore.

Surprisingly, the masses are just as fickle: shape-shifting with every whim and fancy, tone and note, of the Pied Pipers. I can’t think of any other country in which even a simple discussion like cricket will be eventually tainted by political colours. Why? Is it because of the massive brain drain that has leaked the nation empty? Is it because our class and status is defined by our political connections? Is it that we do not think for ourselves? I have often wondered, but never resolved any conclusions.

The discussions surrounding the CIP are no different. The government and its supporters agree with it while the oppositions and its supporters disagree with it. I disagree with it, not because I do not think it’s a good way to attract investment, or of my affiliation with one party or the other, but because the debate has been confined to an issue of passports and the Antiguan passport has a murky history of corruption associated with it. The first mistake could be fatal.

The other reason is that the system of due diligence in Antigua is wholly inadequate. Our probe and research capabilities are not sufficient to do the sifting necessary for such an exercise. A police friend once told me that if Hilroy Boatswain went to the Headquarters and asked for a police record he would get a clean one if he did not tell them that he was also known as Bullgarney. There is no database.  I do not know if that is still the case.

But I am aware of an incident where an employee at Her Majesty’s Prison had obtained a clean slate by the due diligence that was done in Antigua and his native Guyana. Later it was discovered that he was wanted in Guyana. Jamaica, on the other hand refuses to share information on criminal U.S. deportees travelling to Antigua.  Situations like these make one wary of the risk of the CIP. The question though is whether the CIP further dilutes the sanctity of Antigua citizenship. I will have to say NO.

However, this was made more real to me when I read a news item that “Guyanese loses fight to claim compensation” by Martina Johnson on March 12, 2014. The news item reported that the lawyer sued the government claiming “…damages for distress and inconvenience flowing from his [client’s] inability to work”.

I do not have any legal training, but I immediately felt something was wrong with the claim. I can recall that years ago, persons applying for citizenship would approach the bank, requesting a bank statement addressed to the Minister of Naturalization. This I had always surmised was to satisfy the Minister of the applicant’s ability to sustain himself, and most likely, had some basis in law. But I was not sure.

So I checked the law and found that the qualification for citizenship did, in fact, include a component that ensured the applicant’s ability to sustain himself without working. Now if the client’s check list had included that requirement, the lawyer would never have pursued the case.

I will quote abridged (so as just to get the essence of the law) the requirements of the Antigua and Barbuda Citizenship Act (Cap. 22) to attain citizenship.  Most are familiar with the seven years of legal residency (Section 3 subsection (3)). However this is subject to Section 3 subsection (8) which I will quote in part:

“…the Minister may refuse to register as a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda any person …if he is satisfied that the applicant-

(a) is not of good character; or

(b) has been convicted …of a criminal offence for which he was …under a sentence of imprisonment of twelve months or more; or

(c)has engaged in activities, whether within or outside of Antigua and Barbuda, which, in the opinion of the Minister, are prejudicial to the safety, or to the maintenance of law and public order in Antigua and Barbuda; or

(d) has been adjudged or otherwise declared bankrupt…; or

(e) not being the dependent of a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, has not sufficient means to maintain himself and is likely to become a public charge.”

The law is clear that an applicant for citizenship should prove to the Minister that he has sufficient means to maintain himself and is not likely to become a public charge.  From all accounts, the applicants are given a short-list of the requirements for citizenship. That short-list only refers to the seven-year requirement.  It must be made clear that no resident in Antigua is guaranteed to work. Actually, the law is that he works only at the pleasure of the Labour Minister if there are no Antiguans to fill a position.

Why then are the other qualifications for citizenship not made known to applicants? Why are these qualifiers not specified as required? The obvious reason is that Antigua does not have the resources or institutions to assess the applicants properly, or according to law.

There isn’t any institution to check whether applicants pile rubbish in the drain outside their houses. There is no way to check whether the applicant left one house owing rent then proceeded to another. There is no way to check if the applicant left one house with unpaid utility bills (however ridiculous it appears, the bills are assigned to the house and not a person). No one knows if the applicant plays music sufficiently loud to disturb his neighbours. No one can assess what is sufficient means to maintain oneself.

For years persons have been getting citizenship without the necessary due diligence according to law.  If the due diligence is not according to law then it has to be illegal. Every member of parliament, on both sides of the isle, knows this. The members that presided over the diluted citizenship are now complaining that the citizenship is being devalued.

Cap. 22 has been law for over thirty years, since 1982. Since then, it has been law that a person applying for citizenship should have a bag of money. Whether a big bag or small bag, as the law reads, seems to be at the discretion of the Minister. Therefore, what is so repulsive to those who, in the past, turned a blind eye to the law: if the government says that an institution will be secured to perform the due diligence, but insist on a big bag of money and the other requirements, but forego the seven-year requirement? Leonart Matthias is allowed to have a problem with it, but not those that were in favour of, and sly-winked  the makeshift system into being in the first place.

It was never considered important before, whether applicants for citizenship were of good character. A police record cannot assess that. Previously, it was never important if the person was convicted of a criminal offence. It was never important whether the applicant was bankrupt. Nor was it important whether the person had sufficient means to maintain themselves. What has changed overnight so suddenly?

In the past it was never important how many passports were sold. A judge concluded that no law was broken, therefore it was proper. It was not important that Vesco was wanted for securities fraud. He was flirted to establish a principality on Barbuda so he could be issued a passport in another name. Suddenly, convictions have changed. The ones who were silent, distant and hiding from the discussions before are now making the most noise.

Reside here for seven years then do a partial due diligence, or do proper due diligence then allow the person to reside – which would you choose? The point is seven years do not guarantee that a person is of good character. Seven years does not disintegrate a debt. Seven years do not give a person sufficient means to maintain himself. But with adequate due diligence, these qualities for citizenship may be sifted into the country, appreciating the value of citizenship.

Leonart Matthias    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Comments In This Article   

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RE: Passports and CIP – Is Antigua Citizenship being Devalued

#7 Regular Antiguan » 2014-04-12 00:21

I’ve only heard from here www.antiguaeconomiccitizenship.com/syrian-businessman-first-person-to-receive-antigua-citizenship-under-cip/ of one passport sold, where is all of this coming from? Is this somebody’s fantasy? :-|
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RE: Passports and CIP – Is Antigua Citizenship being Devalued

#6 fed up » 2014-04-03 17:39

we soon cant get to go Canada ...and the uk visa free and the other places we need visas will not be giving any
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tenman

#5 leonart matthias » 2014-03-21 01:04

the first point i wish to raise is that evident from the new piece the man is not a non-national but a citizen.

the other is that you are reading into what i wrote what i have not said. i love the courts and prefer persons settle disputes there than get a gun. and i thing that the courts should be more accessible for these disputes. so i applaud the man for his stance and really appreciate him for it. am sure it cost him a fortune.
the point am making is that when the man applied for citizenship the government never told him that he needed a bag of money. if they had told him that was one of the requirements the lawyer would have told him that he has no case. and my evidence (or assumption if it suits you) that they did not give the guyanese a check-list saying he needed a bag of money is that the lawyer took the case.

this is one of the reasons that i am able to conclude that the government has not been keeping the law or doing proper due diligence with respect to citizenship. is that any clearer?
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leonart matthias

RE: Passports and CIP – Is Antigua Citizenship being Devalued

#4 tenman » 2014-03-20 20:39

Mr. Mathias I agree with the teeth of your argument regarding our stance being motivated by politics. It was Colin Sampson who sometime ago wrote, we are a political society. The aim is to take care of the political elites. However, I would not be your brethren if I did not point out a few things: Your issue with the non national ignores certain truths. If I were to apply for a job and was not hired but had reason to believe I was discriminated against or treated unfairly, would I not have the right to sue for damages? When Daily Observer had issues getting a license did the Privy council not basically rule that persons should not suffer for government's (purposely or not) inefficiencies ? There are laws on the books which give ministers certain powers but Mr. Mathias you should know they do not trump constitutional rights.
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tenman

bornya

#3 cavela » 2014-03-20 11:36

It is strange after hearing about ALP selling our passport for years by the UPP now it is OK.My biggest beef with these red and blue is that when they are not in power it is too many taxes ,they selling passport,they giving away land .Today the UPP has really disappointed me.I never thought they would even dream of selling our passport and taxing us so much.Things are so much harder than when ALP was in power.We see our tax dollars wasted on sidewalks and jelly beans.I hurt for Antigua and all the money wasted.We really need a change.www.Caribarena.com
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cavela

passports-and-cip-is -antigua-citizenship -being-devalued? Part 1

#2 Analyst » 2014-03-20 08:22

I differ with some of the statements made, but overall, this represents a good analysis of the situation, particularly of the political divide where a proposal is supported or rejected, based on party affiliation rather than on merit. If the CIP was **sed on merit, then supporters of the ALP should be the first to embrace it, because their leader - Gaston Browne and his surrogate - Asot Michael were the first to propose it. I recall the ALP supporters praising them for their vision etc.

Yet, once the UPP Administration adopted this recommendation, the very ALP supporters condemned the CIP as "selling our passports".

What they have refused to consider are the merits of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that flows from such a programme. In fact, I recall a rabid supporter of the ALP praising St. Kitts for the amount of FDI it attracted while it declined in Antigua. What the writer failed to report was that over 95% of St. Kitts FDI originated from their CIP programme.
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Analyst

passports-and-cip-is -antigua-citizenship -being-devalued? Part 2

#1 Analyst » 2014-03-20 08:21

The article made reference to Bill Cheung, but not to the Non-Resident Ambassador to other countries, who also sold Antigua passports to certain nationalities. And whereas DUE DILIGENCE is being conducted under the CIP no such checks were done previously. Also, whereas fees will be paid into the Treasury under the CIP and in addition the successful applicants must onvest in Antigua, under the ALP these funds went into private pockets.

And we should not forget the two Laiason Officers to the Hispanic community that were employed by the ALP, and paid from the Treasury. Their primary function was to research the family tree of deceased Antiguans and then locate individuals who could become "grandparents" of these Hispanic people, so they could claim citizenship by descent. Imagine that, the Government paying people to violate our laws, so they can gain votes. That is the sick record of the ALP.

No wonder they oppose the CIP for they are judging the UPP by the ALP's low and corrupt standard, and believe that what we will have is a repeat of what transpired under the ALP. Not so! Proper due diligence is being done, and the monies will go into the Treasury.
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Analyst

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