Tourism Minister Takes Aim At Bloggers
Wednesday 18th April, 2018 –Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez is rejecting claims by two convicted money launderers, Kenneth Rijock and Monte Morris Friesner on Internet blogsites, as “false, sinister and dangerous”.
Fernandez is the latest target the government says of a sustained campaign against the Antigua and Barbuda government and its ministers, joining previous attacks on the governments of St Kitts-Nevis and Dominica.
In their latest posting, the two convicted fraudsters claim that Fernandez received US$15 million from a Chinese businessman and that the money “was never properly accounted for”. They allege that the money was payment for 200 Citizenship by Investment passports that “disappeared”.
Fernandez said: “Contrary to the false claims by these two scoundrels, every cent of a US$15 million loan made to the Government by Fancy Bridge Ltd in a legal contract, dated 19th June 2015, is fully accounted for. The monies were paid into the Government of Antigua and Barbuda’s bank account, under the control of the Accountant-General’s Office. From that account, payments of US$8 million were made to the Ex-Im Bank of China to service loans concerning the V.C. Bird International Airport, the Mount St John Hospital and the Wadadli Power Plant; US$6 million was paid to NAMCO to fund various projects in which it is involved and for which it is audited; and US$1 million remains in the account”.
The Tourism Minister also pointed out, “At the time the loan was agreed in 2015, the Prime Minister, as Minister of Finance, declared it to the House of Representatives and indicated the manner of repayment via the CIP, and his statement is a matter of record in parliament”.
Dealing with the allegation that 200 passports were a “prepayment” of the loan but they have “disappeared”, Mr Fernandez stated, “This is patent and palpable nonsense. The only agency that holds passports and has the capacity to issue them is the Passport Office which has twice made clear in the last six months that all passports are fully accounted for and have either been properly issued or remain in stock in the Passport Office”.
The Minister also explained that, “The arrangement for the June 2015 loan with Fancy Bridge Limited is that it would secure 200 applicants for Citizenship by Investment, and provided these applicants fully passed a stringent vetting process, it would be paid fees that are consistent with the Citizenship by Investment Act. At no time did the company or anyone else receive 200 passports”
“Since 2015”, the Minister said, “the company attracted eleven National Development Fund applicants who passed the vetting process, and therefore received US$2.2 Million. The remaining sum of US$12.8 million remains outstanding from the original $15 million loan”.
“I have provided all this detail not to satisfy Rijock and Friesner, but to ensure that the people of Antigua and Barbuda have the full facts of the situation”, the Minister said.
Mr Fernandez concluded, “The question that must be asked is: who is behind a scheme to discredit Antigua and Barbuda and its passports? Who has something to gain from this, and has the money to pay unsavoury persons, such as Rijock and Friesner, to hurt the investment potential in Antigua and Barbuda? In pursuit of this, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda will prosecute the two to achieve full disclosure”.