Photo 1 – Leader of the Opposition, the Right Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas
Basseterre, St. Kitts, May 13, 2018 – Leader of the Opposition in St. Kitts and Nevis, the Right Hon. Dr. Denzil Douglas has called for the immediate resignation of the Federation’s Prime Minister Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris.
Dr. Douglas’ call came in a national video and radio broadcast to the nation on Sunday following secretly taped telephone calls emerged in a judgment in a British Court last Friday (May 11, 2018) in which property tycoon Peter Singh Virdee is accused of bribing high-ranking Caribbean politicians.
“Our country, under the present regime headed by Dr. Timothy Harris has continued to attract one international scandal after another. This time the scandal appears to concern the Prime Minister directly. As a small Caribbean nation, we are fast losing our reputation, and the lifeblood of this country is being sucked from it as corruption runs amok and there seems to be a return of the image of Devil’s Island,” said Dr. Douglas, who served as Prime Minister from July 3, 1995 to February 15, 2015 .
He said it was his solemn duty to report that on Friday 11th May, transcripts produced in a High Court in London in connection with a bribery investigation against billionaire businessman Peter Virdee and his business partner appear to disclose reasonable grounds to believe that bribes and expensive gifts were given to Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis Dr. Timothy Harris as well as other Caribbean politicians.
These relate to a project undertaken by the Timothy Harris Administration with Mr Virdee. The transcripts appeared subject to a court hearing and were produced from surveillance recordings made by German police after they suspected Peter Virdee of being involved in tax fraud. The German tapes were handed over to the National Crime Agency (NCA) in the UK who began their own criminal investigation into the allegations of Bribery of Timothy Harris and other Caribbean politicians, and eventually had the transcripts produced in court on Friday last.
The transcripts produced in the court were of intercepted phone calls between Peter Virdee and his business partner made on 7th February, 12th March, 12th July, 5th August, 11th August and 9th November, of 2016.
“These conversation began about exactly 12 months after Harris became Prime Minister of our country, St. Kitts and Nevis,” said Dr. Douglas who pointed out that in his judgment, delivered on Friday, Lord Justice Holroyde of the High Court in London wrote: ‘There is no doubt that the transcripts include a number of references to the topic of payments or gifts to government officials.’
“Dr. Timothy Harris is mentioned in the transcripts by Office and name,” noted Dr. Douglas and further pointed out that Lord Justice Holroyde in the judgment handed down on Friday also declared that he had ‘NO REASON to doubt the accuracy of the intelligence’ and that ‘there are reasonable grounds to believe that a bribe has been paid and this raises an obligation to investigate what may be serious offences under the Bribery Act [of] 2010, as well as associated money laundering offences under the Proceeds of Crime Act [of] 2002. ‘
“In grounding his decision to uphold the actions of the National Crime Agency in London, Lord Justice Holroyde of the High Court in London wrote in a stinging indictment as follows, ‘I am not aware of any legitimate system in Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts [and Nevis] or St. Lucia whereby a fee may be paid to a Government Department or Cabinet Member for the award of a contract.’
He further declared that ‘the transcripts [of the intercepted telephone conversations] provided an ample basis for believing that offences contrary to the Bribery Act had been committed.’
According to the judgment of the court in London, the National Crime Agency in the UK alleges in its case that the intercepted conversations legally obtained by the German police implicated the Mr. Virdee and his partner in ‘conspiring to bribe corrupt officials; indicated that they had discussed bribes demanded by and paid to the Antiguan Minister for Development and the Prime Minister of. St Kitts; and included a recording of a conversation between the claimants [that is, Mr. Virdee and his partner] and the Antiguan Minister negotiating the amount of money due to the Minister personally for introducing Mr. Virdee to officials of St. Lucia and [of] St. Kitts.’
“The most damning piece of information yet before the high court in London were transcripts of a conversation on 12th March, 2016, in which Peter Virdee allegedly told his business partner, that the Prime Minister of St Kitts, Timothy Harris, was visiting [London] and said of Prime Minister Harris… I quote: ‘I am taking him and his entourage out for dinner this evening and then we have an after-party, so be ready for a big bill, but in the interim he said he would like a nice watch. I said ‘okay.’ And then he (Dr. Harris) called me this morning [Saturday 12th March, 2016] and he said ‘Have you got my watch?’ I said ‘Oh I have got to pick your watch up’…. I spoke to him last Saturday, last Sunday at the airport hotel when he was in transit to Dubai and he said ‘Look, I am in favour of this, I will send my minister down.’ [end of quote]
Dr. Douglas also pointed out that Mr. Virdee continued his telephone conversation by saying, and I quote’: ‘I had a very stiff conversation with him, to the point. I said ‘Listen, you have got another 3, 3 and a half years. In 2 years’ time you are going to start your election campaign, you are going to come to me and say ‘Peter Virdee, I need some election funding’ and I am going to say ‘PM I can’t help you, if I have not earned anything from this country’ and then you are going to get upset and then we are going to fall out, so it is your call, how do you want to do this?’ [end of quote]
“The billionaire businessman continued even further [quote] ………I am going to have a very frank conversation with him (Dr. Harris), I mean as frank as I can get, and today’s conversation is going to be ‘Yes we are going to be in St. Kitts’ or ‘No, we are not going to be in that region’, simple, because I have not got time to go and entertain and go and meet him at airports and take him out for lunches and take eight of them out for dinner, and buy him a watch and buy him (Dr. Harris) this and buy him shoes. I haven’t got time for that. Now, I don’t mind nurturing a relationship, the guy is in power today…” [end of quote]
Dr. Douglas stated: “Peter Virdee went on to tell his partner Mr. Trutschler in the telephone conversation that he was on his way to Selfridge’s to look for a watch, presumably for Prime Minister Harris: He said: “I had my guy out looking yesterday but they are just out of the budget I want to spend on him. I don’t really want to be spending more than like 2,000 pounds on him, on a watch.”
Dr. Douglas told citizens it very much appears on the surface that when Prime Minister Harris is out on his long and lavish trips abroad, he is not out there working “in our interest, looking for honest investments.”
“He is out there, it would appear, seeking to feather his own nest, looking for expensive watches and expensive shoes and lots of money. If we are correct, this would be a complete belittling of the Office of the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis and bringing our entire nation to shame and into disrepute. This is just unimaginable! It is abhorrent! It is unacceptable!” the former prime minister said.
“Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris must therefore immediately resign and give a full accounting of what transpired between him and the billionaire business tycoon Peter Virdee,” said Dr. Douglas who raise what he listed as fundamental and legitimate questions that must be asked and answered by Prime Minister Harris.
“1. Did Harris ask for or receive a bribe from billionaire investor Peter Virdee or his partner?
2. Did Harris ask for or receive a 2000 pound watch or any other luxury watch from billionaire investor Peter Virdee?
3. If so, what was that gift for? What was the basis of that expensive gift given to him?
4. Did Harris ask for or receive an expensive pair of shoes from billionaire investor Peter Virdee?
5. If so, what was that gift for? What was the basis of that expensive gift given to him? Was it for something or for nothing?
6. What was Prime Minister Harris allegedly agreeing to when according to statements of Peter Virdee which are memorialized in the transcripts he said ‘Look, I am in favour of this, I will send my minister down.’
7. Are these dealings related to a renewable energy project earmarked for St. Kitts, and which was to be undertaken by Virdee, and/ or one of his companies?
8. Which minister was he referring to when he allegedly said he would send his minister down?
9. Does any deal that the Prime Minister have with anyone, anywhere have anything to do with the delay of any project which was already on stream which is now on the back-burner?
10. Are expected requests or payments for bribes playing any role in the delay or important projects in our country?”
“We the People must demand that Harris answer each of these questions publicly,” said Dr. Douglas, who noted that in wrapping up his judgment, Lord Justice Holroyde of the high court in London concluded in his decision on Friday as follows: ‘’We emphasise that the claimants deny any wrongdoing, and that nothing we say in this judgment is a final adjudication on the precise meaning of the transcripts.’
“But he was also careful to add the following: ‘Without going into particulars, and putting the matter at its very lowest, we have no doubt that a judge considering the passages we have quoted would regard them as capable of giving rise to a reasonable inference that the claimants [Peter Virdee and his partner] were willing in principle to make corrupt gifts and to pay bribes, but felt that the Caribbean politicians with whom they were dealing were asking for too much.’
“Those statements by Lord Justice Holroyde are very telling about the state of affairs regarding the leadership of our country. We the citizens of this country must likewise regard the evidence before the high court in London as capable of giving rise to a reasonable grounds and inference that billionaire investor Peter Virdee and his business partner gave corrupt gifts and paid bribes to Prime Minister Harris.
“Again I call for the resignation of Prime Minister Harris. His ploy to deceive the people of St. Kitts and Nevis with lofty words is now clear. We have had enough of the corruption and the deception. It must at once come to an end. It must end NOW!” said former Prime Minister Douglas.