In a stunning admittance, former Grenada Foreign Minister Oliver Joseph has admitted that the defeated New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell was in the business of selling diplomatic passports.
Speaking to THE NEW TODAY Tuesday, the former Member of Parliament for St David acknowledged that foreigners who approached the government for appointment as an Ambassador-at-large were required to pay US$150, 000.00 into a special fund in order to get the job which came with a diplomatic passport.
The former high-ranking member of the NNP regime preferred to call the transaction “a contribution to the Consolidated Fund in what we call a Technical Fund so we use this money (for) technical matters.”
“…We call it a Technical Fund which all ambassadors need to make a contribution to,” he said.
Former Minister Joseph addressed the issue of sale of diplomatic passports following claim made by Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell of the existence of a Cabinet Conclusion under the NNP administration in which a Polish national had paid US$290, 000.00 for a diplomatic passport days before the June 23 election and change of government in St George and did not receive it.
The island’s new Prime Minister disclosed that $$140, 000.00 did not reach the Treasury and was diverted to the NNP South St George Constituency office and that the individual was now demanding return of his money.
According to Joseph not all persons appointed as ambassadors to serve Grenada under the NNP government were required to make the financial contribution but only the foreign ones and not Grenadians.
“If you are sent away to represent Grenada as Grenada ambassador to say the UK, USA, you won’t be required to pay that,” he said.
The ex-minister was also asked to comment on whether the large number of persons from China who were accredited as Grenada overseas diplomats made financial contributions to this special fund to get their accreditations.
“Normally that is what will be expected – not in every situation but normally,” he said.
When asked if Ambassador Justin Sun, the founder of TRON did make a financial contribution for his diplomatic position and passport in May, the former Foreign Minister said he did not remember that particular appointment.
“I cannot recall. I can’t remember all these things – who paid and who didn’t pay and how much was paid,” he said.
Sun is a leading figure in the crypto and blockchain sphere and is best known as the Founder of TRON, one of the world’s largest and most popular blockchain platforms.
The new Dickon Mitchell-led Congress administration has recalled all overseas diplomats but Sun is reportedly still on the job.
When told that there are reports that he personally facilitated the Ambassador Sun deal and that the billionaire investor paid approximately US$500, 000 for his diplomatic status from the NNP regime, Joseph said: “Ambassador Sun approached us to be appointed as Grenada’s ambassador to the WHO. All I had to do was get all the information from him and submit it to Cabinet. I was the one in direct contact with him, sending all the information for me so I can prepare, pass it to the PS to prepare the submission to go to Cabinet.”
Minister Joseph flatly denied that he personally negotiated the fee payment with the Chinese-born Sun.
“I am not aware that he paid any fee,” he said.
Over the years, the Keith Mitchell-led NNP government has been dogged by reports of the illegal sale of diplomatic passports in violation of the Vienna convention that regulates behaviour among states at the international level.
On the $US140, 000.00 issue that allegedly ended up in the coffers of a NNP constituency branch, ex-Minister Joseph said that he knows nothing about the money that allegedly came from the sale of a Grenada diplomatic passport.
According to Joseph, his only involvement in the issue was to take a Cabinet Conclusion for the appointment of the Polish national to government with an understanding that US$150, 000.00 should be paid as a contribution to the Consolidated Account of the State under a technical fund.
“That is all I know about it,” he remarked.
The former Member of Parliament for St David said he is only aware of that sum of money that went to the Consolidated Fund and denied any knowledge of any other funds that allegedly were diverted to the NNP constituency branch.
“I don’t even know if there was a next US$140, 000.00. I am telling you the decision was for US$150, 000.00 that went to the Consolidated Fund. I am not aware of US$290, 000.00,” he said.
The former senior government minister also flatly denied knowledge of a Cabinet Conclusion as alluded by Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell that made mention of a particular payment by the Polish national of US$290, 000 to Grenada for the ambassadorial position.
Joseph, a former government Permanent Secretary, was also asked to comment on reports that the Polish man did deliver the funds but did not get the diplomatic passport.
“I don’t know if he had time get the passport – it was close to the election. I don’t know if the passport was issued. The Cabinet Conclusion is that the passport should be issued,” he said.
The controversial “missing” payment from the sale of the passport to the Polish national was addressed Wednesday by the defeated NNP Candidate for South St George, Norland Cox who dropped strong hints that he had no “access” to this account which Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell had alluded to at a Town Hall meeting.
Appearing on GBN’s “To The Point Programme, Cox, the former Minister of Infrastructure Development, said: “I came to the constituency in early January/February thereabout and thereafter we were campaigning so I cannot speak to any such account that I do not have, no knowledge or access to such account. I cannot say. That is the facts.”
“Those are the facts. I think the presenter of the information indicated that he has the information and I am quite certain that none of my staff will not be found in any document or so in anything of that sort – that is what am certain about,” he added.
Cox said he called his campaign people and inquired about the issue and none of them received that amount of money from anyone outside of Grenada.
“….I can clearly state that my campaign, our campaign in which we were unsuccessful … Our record shows that we have not received any direct funding from any foreign donor. All our support was from ordinary persons, local businesses and even former Parliamentary reps who supported our campaign.”
According to Cox, none of his campaign people and support staff “have received or been in contact with any individual … via email, phone call, anything of that sort for any financial support to my campaign.”
He said the accounts used for his campaign “never received such transaction” in the fight against the eventually winner of the battle for the South seat, current Mobilisation, Implementation and Transformation Minister, Andy Williams of Congress.
“That is something I want to make clear so am lost myself as to the allegation concerning the account in South St George Constituency name,” he told the programme.
THE NEW TODAY was not successful in contacting former Health Minister Nickolas Steele who did not defend the South St George seat in the June 23 general election and bowed out from frontline politics to make way for entry of Cox.
The ex-minister at first declined to accept the phone call and in subsequent calls did not answer.
Speculation is rife that Cox might have set up his own bank account which was separate from the one that was being used by Steele.
THE NEW TODAY has picked up from confidential sources that on the eve of the June 23 election, a high-ranking member of the NNP regime had made a cash withdrawal of over $125, 000.00 sometime around 3.00 p.m from an account linked to NNP South St George constituency.
It is not known whether the NNP-controlled Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) was engaged in investigating the sale of the Diplomatic Passport to the Polish national who has approached the new Congress government for a return of his money.