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Commentary

Judgment in favour of Oleg Firer

This week, we the people heard the startling news that Grenada’s former Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Oleg Firer, had been awarded damages and costs in a claim brought by him against the Chief Immigration Officer; the Minister Responsible for Immigration and the Attorney General of Grenada.

Via this judgement we the people became aware that His Excellency had been recalled from the position of Resident Ambassador in May 2022!!?? That was PRIOR to the general elections of June 2022 and therefore a decision of the New National Party Administration.

Judgement re Claim GDAHCV2023//0221 Via this judgement, Mr. Firer was awarded the following:

Damages:
XCD50,000 in damages for “breach of procedural fairness” arising from a decision of the New National Party administration to recall him as resident ambassador to the Russian Federation in May 2022 without informing him of “the specific allegations of impropriety against him and allowing him an opportunity to make representations prior to his recall”.

Unfair and Unlawful:
Justice Glasgow ruled that “Mr. Firer’s recall without being told of these allegations or being afforded the opportunity to be heard was unfair and unlawful in the circumstances of this particular case, on the basis that the recall was done without the required procedural fairness.

Costs: XCD10,000 in costs
Mr. Firer’s claim brought against the three public officials representing the Government of Grenada appeared to have been triggered by the following incidents AFTER the elections of June 2022:-

Denied Entry into Grenada, February 22nd, 2023: Mr. Firer, was denied entry into Grenada on February 22nd, 2023. He was detained at the airport and deported.

CBI Unit Notice of March 28th, 2023: One month later, a notice appeared on the website of Grenada’s Citizenship by Investment Unit advising as follows:- “Grenada Citizenship by Investment Committee advises that Mr. Oleg Firer is not a licensed Marketing Agent, nor a registered sub agent of the Grenada Citizenship by Investment Programme…..”

We the people have always been intrigued by the (former) Ambassador, the operations of Grenada’s Embassy to the Russian Federation and its financing. On what criteria was the Ambassador chosen? From whom did he receive instructions and to whom did he report?

While a full time Ambassador, he also had a variety of private interests. Was this compatible with his role as Grenada’s Ambassador? This article written in the author’s personal and individual capacity, looks at what the author considers key information/evidence obtained from the judgment and offers comments/queries/observations. It does not occupy itself with the arguments, case law nor ruling of the esteemed Justice. All emphases are those of the author.

Information from Judgement
Extracts from Affidavit of Firer

The following information of specific relevance to Firer obtained from the judgement is noteworthy:-

2015, First Visit: His first visit to Grenada was in 2015.

Engaged by Government of Grenada: He was engaged by the Government of Grenada in 2015 after introduction to its Prime Minister, Dr. the Hon. Keith Mitchell;

Grenada Postal Corporation: During that time, he worked with the Grenada Postal Corporation.

2016-2019/Diplomatic Mission in Russia: Over this period, he worked with the Government of Grenada to set up the diplomatic mission in the Russian Federation.

Costs of Operating Mission: The costs of setting up and operating the mission were fully borne by himself.

Property in Grenada: During this period, he also obtained property in Grenada.

August 2018/Diplomatic Passport Issued: He was first issued a diplomatic passport by the Government of Grenada on 18th August, 2018.

Citizen of Grenada: The diplomatic passport confirmed his status as a citizen of Grenada.

2019/Driver’s Licence: He obtained his first Grenadian licence, facilitated by an official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The licence indicated that he was a Grenadian citizen.

January 2020/Renewal of Diplomatic Passport: His diplomatic passport was subsequently renewed on 16th January, 2020.

Non Resident Ambassador: The Government of Grenada appointed him as a non-resident ambassador to Monaco, Czech Republic, Serbia and Kazakhstan on 22nd June, 2020 and to Albania and Bulgaria on 25th June, 2021

Other Information:
The following information in the judgment, from sources other than Mr. Firer, is noted:-

Ambassador: Mr. Firer was appointed by the Government of Grenada as ambassador to the Russian Federation, and as non-resident ambassador to Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Monaco, Czech Republic, Serbia and Kazakhstan.

February 2022/Cabinet Conclusion: A Cabinet Conclusion on February 28th, 2022 records Cabinet’s decision to recall Mr. Firer as Ambassador.

May 2022/Recall as Ambassador: Via letter of May 9th, 2022, Mr. Firer was recalled as Ambassador to Russia and via letter of May 29th, 2022 was recalled as non-resident ambassador.

Mr. Firer advises that he did not receive the letter of May 29th.

Conversation with Minister of Foreign Affairs: Mr. Firer alleged that he had a conversation with the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, who specifically told him to ignore any communication until the end of elections.

Non Compliance with Request for Reports: Mr. Firer refused to comply with requests for monthly financial reports re operation of the Embassy of Grenada to Russian Federation.

Debt re Outstanding Rent: A diplomatic note was received from the Embassy of Russia informing that the Government of Grenada had a debt of over USD 1 million dollars in outstanding rent for the use of the premises housing the Embassy for the period 2020-2022

Resisted Recall: Mr. Firer continued to host events at Embassy in defiance of instructions from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Observations/Queries/Comments

First Visit to Grenada and Purpose:

The information extracted from his affidavit seems to CONTRADICT information given in an interview by the then Ambassador to the Journal of International Affairs, June 2017 .

What year, 2012 or 2015? When did Mr. Firer first come to Grenada and what was his relationship with Grenada? According to his interview, his contacts with the Rt. Hon Prime Minister Mitchell began five years ago (five years would make his appearance in Grenada around 2012 and, at that time, Dr. Keith Mitchell was the Leader of the Opposition).

There was a “humanitarian” project in telemedicine – a programme of medicine for the poor in the Caribbean, linking Cuba and Grenada.

Working in Grenada for 5 Years: He was working in Grenada for “about five years” on various projects at the state level – medical, technological and information technology (IT) projects.

Directly Involved in Reforms in CARICOM: He was directly involved in TWO reforms in CARICOM countries. These reforms were:-

Financial Sector: Reform of payments in the financial sector of CARICOM;

Post Office: The second reform was the post office in Grenada. He further advised that “we” have started with Grenada but “we” want to modernise the mail system in the countries of CARICOM.

“We” (?): it was unclear who was the “we” to whom H.E. made reference. Was it one of his companies and if so, which one of his companies?

IT Projects: H.E. further advised that “a number of IT projects were being considered and “we plan to transfer to the Caribbean” – projects of information society such e-government.

Other Projects Developed in Russia: Other projects included:-

Postal Reform: Technological content for postal reform

Transactional Business: IT projects for transactional business

At the time of the interview in June 2017, Amb. Firer noted that Grenada would be the Chair of CARICOM from July 1st and he expected the projects to be discussed at the CARICOM level.

Grenada Postal Corporation
Based on the information contained in the judgment, is it now confirmed/out in the open that Mr. Firer was involved with restructuring/reform of the Grenada Postal Corporation?

Under the IMF Structural Adjustment Programme, 2014-2017, the Government of Grenada committed to reform a number of its statutory bodies/state-owned enterprises. The Grenada Postal Corporation was one of those state-owned entities for which the Government of Grenada received LOAN financing for restructuring and commercialization. One hundred and forty-six workers received severance packages amounting to EC$9.0m at the end of February 2016.

Amendments were made to the Grenada Postal Corporation legislation. Among these amendments were:-

to enter into agreements with an entity or entities, or participate in a joint venture with an entity or entities and transfer the tangible and intangible assets of the GPC including the responsibility and authority to provide postal services and related services throughout Grenada;

No Transfer of Liability or Obligations upon Signing of Agreement

Amendment re Board of Corporation: The amendment to sub-section (2) provides for a “maximum of seven members and a minimum of two members”.

1.IMF Fifth Review, December 2016 :

The IMF Review noted the following in respect of the Grenada Postal Corporation:-

  • the private sector had been involved in the restructuring process;
  • Staff redundancy was resolved in February 2016 – 150 workers had been retrenched and received severance; the way was paved for private participation in the operation of the postal service;
  • Total severance costs was estimated at EC$7.5 m or 0.3 percent of GDP
  • Greater transparency about the plans for this new entity and/or and the timing of conclusion of the deal would be desirable.

According to Firer’s affidavit, he came to Grenada in 2015 and was engaged to work with the Grenada Postal Corporation. In his June 2017 interview with International Affairs, he advised that he   was involved in two reforms at the CARICOM level, one of which was the post office in Grenada.

Private Sector:   Was Oleg Firer the “private sector” involved in the restructuring process of GPC? On what criteria and by what process was he chosen?

Business Interest in GPC: Did/does Oleg Firer have business interest in the GPC?

Status re GPC Ownership?
One notes that the current administration has remained as tight-lipped as it predecessor in respect of the Grenada Postal Corporation.

Pre-Elections June 2022: What was the status re ownership of the Grenada Postal Corporation at the time of the general elections on June 23rd, 2022?

Post-Elections June 2022: What is the current status re the ownership of the Grenada Postal Corporation?

Grenada Postal Corporation and the Eastern Caribbean Block Chain Association
According to the website, the Eastern Caribbean Block Chain Association (ECBA), is a not-for profit educational and trade organisation dedicating to advancing block chain technology and proclaims itself as the Eastern Caribbean voice of blockchain and cryptocurrency. Its location is given as Willcox Way, Westerhall Point, St. David, Grenada, W.I.

When the author first accessed this website in August 2018, the son of the then Prime Minister/Minister of Finance was named as contact. The website identified the Government of Grenada and the Grenada Postal Corporation among the associated entities of the Eastern Caribbean Block Chain Association.

The website of the ECBA has since become faceless and nameless. But from other sources one learnt that Oleg Firer was/is the Chairman of the Board.

It is also interesting to note the following:-

Chair Monetary Council: At the 91st meeting of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, held in Grenada in July 27th, 2018, the Chairmanship of the Monetary Council was passed to Grenada’s Prime Minister. That tenure went well beyond the usual one year.

Implementation for Transformation: The Rt. Hon. Chairman declared that his tenure would be one of “implementation for transformation”. Among issues that would be addressed under his tenure was fintech regulation and supervision – the ECCB was exploring opportunities in respect of blockchain technology.

Special Legal Advisor, Ministry of Finance: Just around that time, the Prime Minister/Minister of Finance appointed his son as Special Legal Advisor to the Ministry of Finance. In defending the appointment, the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister advised the nation that his son was highly qualified for the position in which he would be operating. He was a lawyer – qualified and called to the bar in three states of the United States – and a Computer Engineer.

It was unclear to whom the Advisor would be reporting, what were his Terms of Reference and his relationship with the Attorney-General’s office.

My Caribbean/Chimera Spice: The Special Legal Advisor was a Director of My Caribbean, a trade center established under the aegis of the Embassy of Grenada to the Russian Federation, “to promote bilateral trade between the Caribbean, Russian and Eurasian markets” and the Managing Director of Chimera Spice which was named as a partner of My Caribbean.

According to the website, nutmegs and cocoa were its best selling products.

It is unclear as to what has happened to both My Caribbean and Chimera Spice.

Appointment as Ambassador
Appointment: In his June 2017 interview with the journal, International Affairs, Mr. Firer advised that after working in Grenada for about five years, he was invited by Prime Minister Keith Mitchell to represent Grenada in Russia.

April 2017:   Mr. Firer advised that by order of Queen Elizabeth II, he was appointed Grenada’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation in April 2017. He presented his credentials to Sergei Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, on April 6.

Official Opening of Grenada’s Embassy to the Russian Federation: The Grenada Embassy was officially opened on August 1st, 2017.

Presentation of Credentials to President Putin: He presented his credentials to President Putin on October 3rd, 2017.

First Anniversary of Embassy: The embassy marked its first anniversary on August 1st, 2018.

Issue of First Diplomatic Passport: According to Mr. Firer’s affidavit, his FIRST diplomatic passport was issued on August 18th, 2018.

January 2020/Renewal of Diplomatic Passport: His diplomatic passport was subsequently renewed on 16th January, 2020. The Embassy marked its third anniversary in Moscow in August 2020.

Embassy of Grenada to the Russian Federation
Russian Debt Relief, USD 266,667:   Was the establishment of the Embassy of Grenada to the Russian Federation linked to the restructuring of Grenada’s debt under the IMF Structural Adjustment Programme of 2014-2017?

November 15th, 2015: Grenada negotiated with its Paris Club creditors for debt relief. In November 2015, Grenada reached agreement on its debt with the Russia Federation. Was the establishment of a permanent diplomatic mission one of the conditions of the debt relief to Grenada?

January 2017, Visit of Ambassador of Russian Federation: On January 6th, 2017, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell hosted a meeting with His Excellency Nikolay Smirnov, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Grenada.

H.E. advised that the main purpose of his visit was “to discuss bilateral issues such as scholarships, training opportunities, debt relief, the establishment of a Diplomatic Mission of Grenada in the Russian Federation, and the signing of a new visa waiver agreement in the not too distant future between both countries”.

H.E. suggested that it was an opportune moment for the Government of Grenada to have a permanent diplomatic presence in Russia. He noted that diplomatic presence would enhance the relationship and position Grenada to maximise on a number of opportunities in the areas of Education, Tourism, Health and Energy.

September 20th, 2017, Grenada and Russia Sign Visa Waiver Agreement and Discuss Technical Cooperation: Hon. Elvin Nimrod, Minister of Foreign Affairs and his Russian counterpart H.E. Sergey Lavorv signed an agreement to facilitate visa-free travel between Grenada and Russia.

The signing took place on the margins of the United Nations Assembly in New York.   Re technical co-operation, Minister Nimrod emphasized the significance of human resource development to Grenada and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as a whole, and welcomed continued and further cooperation with Russia, particularly in building capacity in the medical field.

November 1st-3rd, 2017: New Dawn Conference, Inaugural Russian/Eurasian-Caribbean Forum Hosted in Grenada

Sandra Ferguson

TO BE CONTINUED