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Top civil servant collected money on shrimp farm project

Fabian Purcell – has a lot of explaining to do on the money transaction in the Shrimp Farm affair

A senior government employee in Grenada has admitted receiving money from the developers of the failed Shrimp Farm project in St. Mark but denied that he was engaged in an act of extortion of the funds.

THE NEW TODAY last Thursday confronted the Head of the Physical Planning Unit (PPU) within the Ministry of Public Utilities and Works, Fabian Purcell with documents obtained about the project which implicated him in wrongdoing.

This newspaper presented Purcell with a document bearing the name of Manfred H. Soeffing, the former Senior Operating Manager Construction/Engineerig for the Grenada Sustainable Aquaculture (GSA) which was expected to create 400 jobs for residents in the island’s poorest parish.

The document surfaced following the recent Al Jareeza documentary which exposed the alleged illegal sale of diplomatic passports by officials in Grenada and Dominica to finance their elections.

THE NEW TODAY understands that 57 applications were processed from foreign nationals including Russians that amounted to EC$50 million being in the pipeline to build the Shrimp Farm.

The document now in the hands of this newspaper made mention of e-mail exchanges between Soeffing and Purcell in which the PPU head requested payment to fast track the application by the developers of the Shrimp farm.

According to the document, Purcell provided his bank account for the developer so that the requested funds could be wired into it.

The PPU plays a critical role in the approval of building permit applications in Grenada.

The document indicated that Purcell asked for money when he realised that he was “left out of the deal” that the developers had struck with a Land Surveyor working with the government by the name of Venance Msacky who is no longer employed by the State.

Soeffing said: “In the first week of February 2017, we had hired a surveyor, who was a government employee, but also worked for private companies in his time off.

He was on a list of government approved Surveyors, which had been handed to us by a Government employee. Fabian (Purcell) somehow heard about this and was angry that he had been left out of the deal.

He (Purcell) suggested to us that if we would pay him the same amount as the down payment we had (paid) to the Surveyor ($2,600.00 US), he would speed up our application process and get our application on the agenda for the next Planning Commission meeting, which happened to be scheduled for the next day.

“Usually an application has to be turned in at least 2 weeks before the next scheduled Planning Commission meeting. This was going to save us at least one or two months. Due to the press of time, he (Purcell) told us to come to his government office (where) he dictated to my wife what to say on the application forms. My wife filled out the application forms in her own hand-writing. From the e-mails you can see that he sent us the wiring instruction for his bank account. As a cover he called it for “survey work done”, but he didn’t do any survey work. He only sent us copies of surveys the Grenada Government had previously done”.

According to Soeffing, he did not personally handle the wire transfer of the funds to Purcell’s bank but that it was done by the main developer himself, Soren Dawody who was responsible for raising the funds for the St. Mark project through the sale of Grenadian passports.

“I didn’t make the decision to pay the money. I had no authority to approve or make payments, I was not a signatory on the company bank account. I merely informed my superiors of Fabian’s demands. The decision to pay was made by Soren Dawody who also executed the wire transfer”, Soeffing is quoted as saying in the document.

The wire transfer which showed the financial transaction involving the Head of the Physical Planning Unit

He spoke of Purcell becoming very “impatient” when he did not receive the funds but he was able to verify that the funds were indeed sent when he got a copy of the Wire Transfer from another GSA high-level operative by the name of Leo Ford who received it from Dawody.

The German-born GSA official said that in the next few months he was no longer in direct contact with Purcell as he was engaged in visiting existing shrimp farms around the United States and meeting with shrimp farm engineers and designers and also visiting University departments that specialised in research for new shrimp farming techniques on behalf of the company.

Soeffing said: “After we had decided on a concept for the shrimp farm, I returned to Grenada in early 2018 to get working drawings done and start construction. When I went to Fabian’s office, he acted like he didn’t know anything about our application. I soon realised that apparently our application had never been on the agenda for any of the Planning Commission meetings.

“When I reminded Fabian and I was able to furnish him with proof of my company’s payment into his private bank account, he sprang into action and our application was approved and signed by the C.E.O of the Grenada Planning and Development Authority, Mr. Fabian Purcell on January 23, 2018”.

Purcell admitted to receiving money from GSA but denied that it was for helping to fast track their application for the Shrimp Farm project.

He said that he assisted GSA in doing a Topographical Site survey for the outline planning application for the project as that was deemed to be very critical for processing its application as Msacky who was assigned that work was very slow in getting it ready.

He also admitted that he helped in filling up the application form by the developers.

Purcell spoke of having to do the Topography work on a Geographic Information System (GIS) software but did it outside of the government department and that there was a cost to getting it done.

“I assisted in preparing the Topography for the site. I was asked if I can assist to do that and I said yes. This was not done on or with Government Software”, said the Head of Physical Planning.

Purcell also disputed the claim made by Soeffing that he was paid the equivalent of EC$7,000.00 as was paid to Msacky by GSA for prior work that was done for the company.

When asked if he had obtained the necessary permission from the Public Service Commission (PSC) as is required by public officers to engage in private work, the PPU head kept silent with a stony face look and did not answer the question.

Purcell also kept his mouth totally shut when asked by THE NEW TODAY if he had paid Value Added Tax (VAT) to the State for the service that he rendered to GSA based on the fact that he admitted that he had collected a fee.

Msacky was contacted by this newspaper and denied the claim made by Purcell that he was slow in producing the Topography site survey for the GSA developers.

He said that he had done the work in keeping with the contract and put together the Topography drawing on time and submitted it to Kenrick Gabriel & Associates in keeping with the agreement.

“ If I didn’t do it (Topography drawing) on time I would have lost my contract”, he remarked.

When contacted by THE NEW TODAY, Soeffing maintained his version of the encounter with Purcell that the payment was made to fast-track their application for the Shrimp farm.

He said that GSA was pleased with the work done by Msacky and that the issue of a Topography Site survey was never raised at any time with Purcell.

He insisted that Purcell was “annoyed” with the fact that Msacky was the one who had been used by GSA for the project and that he (PPU Head) was left out of the deal and did not benefit financially.

The senior government employee also denied that he had demanded a fee of EC$22, 000.00 from a family in St. Andrew whose construction project was halted by PPU.

A family member said that following negotiations with Purcell a first payment of US$1000.00 was paid in cash in order for Purcell to start work on the drawings for the project and another US$3000.00 in cash was handed to the PPU head in his government office in the GCNA Complex when the drawings were completed and handed over personally by the senior civil servant.

He spoke of Purcell calling a few weeks later to collect the rest of the money but was told, “it’s like you alone who wants to eat a food” and no more money was given to him.

The PPU head denied the allegation and said that an application for the individual concerned was approved and yet to be collected.

“I think that building has been completed”, he chipped in.

The interview with Purcell ended with the senior government employee uttering the words, “I was only trying to help (with the Shrimp Farm Project) but now I am getting my fingers burned”.

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