Antigua and Barbuda: Immunity = Impunity

Leroy King, the former Head of Antigua & Barbuda's Financial Services Regulatory Commission has lost another appeal, leaving him with the prospect of the Privy Council as a last resort before inevitable extradition to the USA on 11 charges of alleged wire and mail fraud.

The charges relate to the USD $7 billion Ponzi scheme and banking fraud perpetrated by R Allen Stanford, currently serving 110 years in a Texas jail. 

Since proceedings against him began in 2009, King has surprisingly escaped justice through a series of frustrating legal manoeuvres

Some who said he would never face real justice are looking increasingly encouraged.  However, there are others that say King will never reach US soil, despite the attraction of a plea bargain.

It is interesting that this news coincides with two fresh revelations, one about the appalling conditions in Antigua & Barbuda's prison and the other regarding the possibility of marijuana being grown legally on the twin Island state for the first time.

The irony of both would not be lost on many observers and commentators.

Latest figures show that there are over 300 male and female inmates at Her Majesty's Prison 1735 in Coronation Road, St John's. The notorious and dilapidated institution, which was originally constructed for a different purpose in 1735 should house less than half that amount.

Many endure over-crowding of up to 12 prisoners to a typical mosquito-infested 12 feet x 12 feet cell for up to 20 hours duration. They sleep on the floor and the latest occupants, or most vulnerable, have their heads next to the slopping out pails.

The dreadful sanitation, squalid health conditions, lack of proper food & drinking water, gang violence and the considerable length of time taken to process cases, have been drawn to the attention of bodies and countries outside the twin Islands, including the UN, Canada and the UK.  It is said that many remand prisoners plead guilty to offences they have not committed to shorten the process.

Several UN members such as China, Germany and Australia have pressed the Antigua & Barbuda authorities to improve the situation to even conform with the UN minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners to no avail.

In fact, a UK court initially refused to extradite PC Lee Martin-Cramp, a Metropolitan Police Officer, accused in May 2015 of allegedly raping a 19-year old student at a wedding in Antigua because of the undisputed appalling conditions at HMP 1735.

In August 2018 a second request was upheld on the proviso that he was detained elsewhere in humane conditions that did not breach his Human Rights.  He is now being held pending trial at a former U.S. Naval base in Antigua and has been refused bail.

Turning to the other revelation, following Antigua & Barbuda's decision in April 2018 to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, the Government confirmed that it has been approached by six local, regional and international groups and agencies interested in developing the industry in Antigua and Barbuda.

Legislation passed in April 2018 approved the possession of 15 grams of Ganja and the growing of four cannabis plants per household.

It seems now that the Government intends to pursue the "Canadian model" and facilitate commercial farming and sale of "medicinal use" cannabis products.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's World Drug Report 2017, Canada has the globe's eighth-largest illegal marijuana crop and is a net exporter.

As such, organised crime is well established in the sector, despite it being a relatively low profit product. 

Medicinal use products, as with other prescription drugs, are considerably more attractive to the higher end of the criminal food chain and they do have the means to take full advantage of these new opportunities.

Given Antigua & Barbuda's longstanding and well-documented reputation, the country would be a perfect fit for this emerging market.

Donald Toon, Director Prosperity (Economic and Cybercrime) at the UK National Crime Agency has publicly accused the Cayman Islands of failing to co-operate with beneficial ownership information.

He confirmed that normally when NCA officers requested help from a British Overseas Territory "we can generally get from them clear, unambiguous beneficial ownership information but we are having a difficulty with Cayman".

He further commented that "The Cayman government is entirely aware of the UK concerns.

The NCA advised that it appeared criminals were finding new tax havens to exploit lax regulation and hide their links to corrupt assets.

These were jurisdictions "well beyond the British Overseas Territories," which Mr Toon called "small island nations" where "people are able to register companies but are much more difficult to penetrate in terms of getting access to the information on beneficial owners."

Mr Toon went on to say that there were jurisdictions "well beyond the British Overseas Territories," where "people are able to register companies but are much more difficult to penetrate in terms of getting access to the information on beneficial owners."

Though not naming them, but by specifically labelling them "small island nations," is being interpreted as meaning the five East Caribbean states comprising Antigua & Barbuda, St Lucia, Grenada, Dominica and St Kitts & Nevis.

However, other commentators suggest that he could be referring to Malta and Cyprus.

Meanwhile, yet another Antigua & Barbuda Citizen By Investment passport recipient is holed up in Antigua to avoid extradition.

Mehul Choksi is a fugitive businessman wanted by the Indian Judicial Authorities on charges including alleged criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, corruption, money laundering and in connection with an estimated USD $2 billion alleged loan fraud at a Mumbai-based branch of the Punjab National Bank.

Conveniently, India does not have an extradition treaty with Antigua and Barbuda and so his new dual nationality provides an added benefit far beyond economic investment.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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