As I engaged myself in preparation for the holiday season and end of year rituals, my attention was drawn to, and I read with interest the release from WRB indicating that my Government had repurchased its shares in GRENLEC. Curious, I listened attentively to the press conference of the Ministers with responsibility for Finance and Foreign Affairs as they sought to explain the transaction, provide answers on the source of funding for the repurchase of the shares and allay the fears of many of us who by then were second guessing our leaders.
The press conference left me with more questions than answers and heightened my desire to probe beyond what was being dished out. Since that initial press conference there has been many variants to the explanation provided by the Ministers and an attempt to invoke the provisions of the Public Finance Management Act to justify actions taken to identify the funds and make the repurchase.
Clearly the explanation given has not sat well with the citizens of this country and in actuality is nonsensical since the Constitution, the supreme law of this land has not been adhered to. There is no denying that a monetary transaction has occurred involving a large sum of monies in the possession of the government. The issues at hand relate to the origins of such monies and the manner in which the transaction was executed.
It is difficult to conclude that the monies were legally obtained, and the transaction properly executed since our Prime Minister, Ministers for Finance and Foreign Affairs and our Parliamentarians have not been transparent, open, and honest with us. The Prime Minister had been mostly silent until his defense of the transaction in Parliament indicating that citizens should not concern themselves with the source of the funding.
Senior public officials like the Permanent Secretary/Finance, the Accountant General and the Attorney General who by law are accountable for the use of public funds along with many business and community leaders have all refrained from clarifying this dubious action.
With so many more questions than answers, I taxed my brain as to what could explain this huge one-off transaction at a time when the fiscal situation in the country is extremely tight, and a budget had just been presented. As much as I thought of the matter I could not come up with any reasonable and rational explanation for the transaction, and the underlying beneficiary.
It was through a revelation that I was asked to investigate the concept of money laundering and use this means to share my findings.
My investigation revealed that money laundering is a process by which criminals disguise the original ownership and control of the proceeds of criminal conduct by making such proceeds appear to have derived from a legitimate source. Criminally derived property includes money and may be laundered in many and extensive ways by individuals, companies, entities, and governments.
Simply put, money laundering involves the illegal process of making large amounts of money generated by a criminal activity appear to have come from a legitimate source. The money from the criminal activity is considered “dirty”, and the process “launders” it to make it look clean.
From all that has been said to us by our government and the exposure by qualified, competent and knowledgeable persons that the 2020 Budget could not adequately cover the amounts needed and the transaction conducted in the manner in which it was done, it is necessary to ask whether the concealing from the public of the source of the money used for the repurchase of the shares in WRB is because of money laundering?; using this transaction to place “dirty money” into our financial system.
This is even more relevant in light of the secrecy surrounding the Citizenship By Investment programme and the National Transformation Fund. Monies from the sale of passports to persons unknown to us from all over the world and who are granted citizenship of Grenada are placed into the National Transformation Fund. A portion of these monies go to projects approved by the Government.
Was the repurchase of share in WRB designated as such a project? Is there a limit on how many passports could be sold at any one time and how much could be contributed to an approved project? How do we know that criminals are not taking advantage of this provision in the Fund and in the word of the Prime Minister causing us to be “used and abused” in the process.
Grenada has been black-listed in the past because of money-laundering concerns. Our good name has been sullied internationally because of offshore banking and other questionable money dealings entered into by this administration. We continue to attract questionable people to our shores and expect a different result whilst doing the same thing over and over.
Money laundering is a crime. In the Proceeds of Crime Guidelines an acceptable source of fund declaration must be made by individuals undertaking one-off transactions of ten thousand dollars and above. However, our government undertakes a one-off transaction of approximately one hundred and seventy million dollars with no apparent proper declaration of the source of funds to the public. Is it that the real identity of the actual source of the funds is being hidden from us and if so why?
Suspicious transactions identified as part of the anti-money laundering guidelines include unusually large or substantial increases in cash deposits by individuals and deposits. These deposits are to be reported to the FIU for thorough investigation and prosecution if necessary. Can the one hundred and seventy million dollars transaction by our government be flagged as a suspicious activity to be investigated by the FIU?
In the absence of documentary evidence to the contrary from the government identifying the legal sources of the monies and accounting for every cent, I have no choice but to conclude that my government might be involved in money laundering.