In 2002 Peter Fritsch, a renowned Wall Street Journal reporter, first highlighted the curiosities in Texan Allen Stanford's growing financial empire centered in Antigua and also exposed the expropriation of US-owned private property, known as the Half Moon Bay Resort, by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda.
Now the former reporter and Bureau Chief is a partner and project leader at Fusion GPS, a Washington D.C. private research and strategy consulting firm.
Fritsch is a multilingual investigator, writer and manager with 24 years of experience on four continents, who has led and participated in Pulitzer Prize-nominated investigations from Mexico, Brazil, Southeast Asia, Brussels and Washington, D.C. and has powerful relationships with international law and policy makers.
Today, Fritsch and his partners are again looking at Antigua. This time, his inquiry aims to go deeper than a journalistic interest would indicate. His firm, staffed by former intelligence officials and media professionals, recently agreed to work with the Half Moon Bay shareholders to assist them in their pursuit of justice.
Last week, Ian Moncrief-Scott interviewed him for a Mondaq.com article, as follows:
IMS: Peter, it has been nearly a decade since you wrote about the expropriation of Half Moon Bay on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Much has changed in Antigua since that time. Allen Stanford is in jail and you are no longer a journalist. Tell me what you're up to now and what brings you back to the topic of Antigua?
PF: Yes, it's been a while. I am now a partner in a private research company in Washington D.C. I work with a former colleague at the WSJ, an expert in dealing with issues of money laundering and transnational crime. Our third partner is a former intelligence official from the Treasury Department. He is an expert in mapping of illicit financial networks. We basically carry out private investigations for clients and then seek to make our findings part of the public discussion, when appropriate. Think of us as collectors of strategic information that can help raise awareness of an issue.
IMS: And what is your connection to Antigua?
PF: I recently returned to the subject of Antigua through Natalia Querard. I happened to run into her earlier this year in Washington, where she was meeting with some government officials and Members of congress regarding her case. It had been a long time since we collaborated on that WSJ story you mentioned and I was astounded to hear that her saga continues. I had just assumed the collapse of the Stanford Ponzi scheme and the change in government in Antigua would have turned things around for her Company. After all, I remember Baldwin Spencer swearing an affidavit opposing expropriation.
I ran into Mrs. Querard again at the Offshore Alert money laundering conference this spring in Miami. That struck me as something of a sign or a stroke of fate. So my partners and I decided we'd like to help her if we could. That's what we're doing.
IMS: I'm not sure I quite understand. You are helping her with her court cases?
PF: No, not exactly. Those are stuck in limbo. One case is an appeal concerning the valuation of the property. The other is a case on a constitutional matter. It seems pretty obvious from having read the court record that the government has no real intention of answering these matters in a timely fashion: the facts are not favourable to the Government.
IMS: What do you mean?
PF: Well, the valuation affirmed by the court, just under $24 million, is clearly out of line given the quality of the property, irregularities in the government's assessment and what comparable valuations in the Caribbean are. I'd be pretty amazed if the Court of Appeal didn't award a far higher value to the property. That isn't in the Government's interest, that all I meant. So they're in no rush and behaving accordingly. Meantime, the property sits idle.
IMS: Right. Well then, just how can you help?
PF: What we can do is conduct carefully documented research in multiple jurisdictions. Our goal is to demonstrate to those interested in Antigua, be they investors or government officials or multilateral institutions, that the Half Moon Bay case is really just Exhibit A in a pattern of behavior across multiple administrations that really just boils down to a fundamental disrespect for the rule of law.
IMS: Isn't that a bit of a familiar tale?
PF: Yes and no. It is one thing to talk generically about the Lindquist report, the IHI affair, the Swiss American Bank, the Hanover Bank, APUA Funding or the Petrocaribe/ABIB relationship. It is quite another to document these matters and package them in a way that is compelling for policymakers and lawmakers trying to make sense of the place. Or to highlight the disconnect between Antigua's efforts to avail itself of international bodies like the WTO, when its offshore gaming industry can be shown to have close ties to organized criminal activity.
Antigua continues to ignore the extradition requests of allies and cultivates ties to rogue nations like Venezuela and Iran. I even read that Bill Cooper, a fugitive of U.S. justice, has been talking about doing business with the Antiguan Government. None of that may be new to islanders or people like yourself who have spent time studying the island, but I promise you it is not well understood in places like D.C.
IMS: And why not?
PF: I think it's just a matter of bandwidth. Antigua is a small place and there are a lot of problems out there in the world crying for attention, which is understandable. Anyway, that's where we come in: if the Treasury, State or Justice Departments don't have the time or resources to map and understand some of these issues in their own back yard, we'll do it for them. A lot of people, Mrs. Querard included, think that the State Department's job is to protect American citizens' interests overseas. Sadly, that is not the case. State's job is to keep bilateral relations on an even keel. That's why they missed the Stanford crimes.
IMS: Can you give me some concrete examples of some of the things you've discovered?
PF: I'd prefer not to right now, if that's ok. We're still in the collection phase of the project. But we'll be happy to share some of our findings soon, with you and anyone else who's interested.
IMS: Thank you. Now, have you been back to Antigua lately?
PF: Yes, I was there in the spring to do some records research.
IMS: What did you think? Is it how you remembered it?
PF: Well, I had mixed feelings. It remains one of the most beautiful islands I've ever seen in a lot of ways. But then a lot of things haven't changed much at all. Yes, there is a new cricket stadium courtesy of the Chinese, but the overall lack of investment is quite obvious when you go downtown. It still feels like a place in the thrall of a few families and investors with powerful political connections. It's hard to dislike to place though.
IMS: Did you make it out to see Half Moon Bay?
PF: I did. I leaned on Mrs. Querard to take me there. She was pretty reluctant as the place holds so many memories for her. We walked down the beach to see her old property. The house she used to live in is long gone, alas. To see the property derelict is a bit sad, of course. The day we were there, vagrants were using what was once one of the finest beachfront suites in the Caribbean as a place to drink and smoke weed. Pretty incredible to think that the likes of Elton John and Bjorn Borg once stayed in these very rooms.
IMS: What do you think will happen at the end of the day?
PF: I think the Government will be smart enough to realise that expropriation is an act it won't want associated with Antigua in perpetuity and will do whatever it takes to remove that scarlet "E," as it were.
There is a clear economic and political benefit to developing Half Moon Bay. Think of the jobs the place could generate, if developed properly. We're talking about over 100 acres of absolutely beautiful land, over the hill from Eric Clapton. It has to be developed. All the laws of politics, economics and common sense say so.
IMS: Indeed, there have been expressions of interest from many investors, according to the government.
PF: Yes, well, we'll see. We are watching that closely. I know that Egbert Perry is one such investor, at least according to the newspapers. By all accounts, he is an honourable man, well esteemed both in Antigua and in the U.S. He even sits on the Board of Fannie Mae, the U.S. mortgage guarantor.
His arrival would be a good signal, I assume. But one must remember; there is just no way he or anyone will be able to get legitimate funding for a project of Half Moon Bay's scale so long as the title remains encumbered by the outstanding issue of compensation for the original owners of the property. Were the Government to proceed with Mr. Perry without compensation for HMB Holdings, you would have a bizarre situation where a property was taken from one group of American citizens for the benefit of another (Stanford) only to fall into the hands of a third (Perry), all without a penny ever changing hands.
IMS: Now that sounds like another story worthy of The Wall Street Journal.
PF: And a few other publications as well!
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