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Antigua: New CIP Scandal is ‘frightening’

A senior official from one opposition party has attacked Prime Minister Gaston Browne for his silence on the Choksi citizenship scandal while an official from another party has demanded that he orders a “thorough” external investigation into the operations of the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU).

Gisele Isaac, chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP) said the silence from Browne who is minister responsible for the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) was “frightening.” She singled out Browne saying that he had “an obligation to speak.”

The prime minister twice told OBSERVER over the last two days that he would not comment on the matter, directing this media house to the CIU and the police instead. He did at one point tell one journalist via WhatsApp, “Evidently there was no negative info on him back in November 2017.”

Calls to Atlee Rodney, acting police commissioner went unanswered on Tuesday and Wednesday and an email to the police office of communications on Tuesday morning has yet to receive a reply.

Anthony Stuart, the Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Governance Spokesman for the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) meanwhile called for the prime minister to “order a thorough investigation” into why “crooks and vagabonds and alleged fraudsters are buying our passports.”

On Tuesday, the CIU confirmed that Mehul Choksi, an Indian billionaire and businessman now wanted in India for alleged fraud was given Antiguan and Barbudan citizenship in November 2017 and swore his oath of allegiance in January this year.

However, while the CIU did not say when the exact timeframe of its background investigation on Choksi was, OBSERVER in a Google Search of the wanted man’s name, was able to find an article by the Economic Times in India dated March 10, 2017 titled ‘SEBI orders investigation into alleged manipulative trading in Gitanjali Gems stocks’.

That story had indicated that the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) had ordered an investigation into alleged manipulative trading in the stock of the Gitanjali Gems company, of which Choksi is the CEO.

Isaac said it was appalling that “these people slip through” when their infractions are “so glaring and so obvious.” She asked, “Is it that we are taking anybody just because they have money?”

The UPP chairman then pointed to the recent resolution passed this week in Parliament allowing the CIU to operate offshore bank accounts and to accept payment in cryptocurrencies.

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