September 25, 2020

Dominica diplomatic passports reportedly still for sale


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From The Caribbean Radio

MIAMI, USA — In the latest revelation in the rapidly unfolding saga of diplomatic passports allegedly sold by the government of Dominica to questionable individuals, a new report on Monday provided another insight into the practice, which has been denied by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.

“For the record, I wish to assure the people of Dominica that Roosevelt Skerrit has never sold and will never sell diplomatic passports to anyone,” Skerrit said in an address to the nation on Saturday night.

However, according to the latest report, a Dominican posing as a British citizen recently contacted an agent representing the country’s citizenship by investment programme in Southeast Asia, asking how he could acquire a diplomatic passport.

The agent is said to have responded that the cost of the diplomatic passport is US$500,000, his fee/commission is US$80,000 and the funds have to be deposited in an account at a bank located in Singapore.

In an article on Monday, we stated a number of facts in relation to this issue, one of which was that for at least ten years the US embassy in Bridgetown has expressed concern over the sale of diplomatic passports by Eastern Caribbean countries.

In a comment posted online, Skerrit’s attorney, Anthony Astaphan SC, responded:

“This is news to me. Whenever the US has concerns it has acted. It has imposed sanctions on St Lucia for extra judicial killings, and revoked the visas of many in the police force and at least one minister in government. It also imposed a financial advisory on in relation to passports including one diplomatic passport. Nothing has ever been issued in relation to Dominica.”

However, official misgivings in relation to the issue of diplomatic passports by Caribbean countries were expressed on at least two occasions in US embassy cables published by Wikileaks and easily searchable in that database.

In a February 3, 2006, cable sent by Mary Kramer (then US ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean), she suggested that influence may be purchased to further legitimate business concerns but, in the case of “the bearers of passports to which they are not entitled”, such influence could be used for more nefarious purposes.

Almost four years later, on December 4, 2009, Brent Hardt, then chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Barbados, reported that Dominica’s economic citizenship program, as well as the sale of diplomatic passports and ambassadorial rank, have all occurred in a less than transparent manner, with allegations that some of the money charged for these programs makes its way to Skerrit.

“As the economy flits among uncoordinated infrastructure projects of dubious benefit, multiple corruption cases have received increasing media coverage. In every case, there are allegations that Skerrit has abused his privileges and is benefiting financially from his position,” Hardt wrote.

According to Hardt, at the time, the most prominent focus of corruption charges is Skerrit’s personal residence, whose construction costs appear to be far in excess of his official assets.

Dominica’s corps of questionable diplomats includes but is probably not limited to:

1. Alireza Zibahalat Monfared, an Iranian national, recently arrested in the and extradited to Iran for embezzling billions of dollars in a massive sanctions evasion operation. Monfared holds (or held) a diplomatic passport from Dominica, which he reportedly acquired through a personal relationship with Skerrit.

2. Diezani Allison Madueke – the former Nigerian oil resources minister, holder of Dominica diplomatic passport DP0000445 issued in May 2015, accused of stealing hundreds of millions from the public purse

3. Francesco Corallo – an Italian national who asserted immunity on the strength of a Dominica diplomatic passport when Italian police raided his home in 2011. Corallo has since been arrested in St Maarten on charges of tax evasion and bribery in Italy.

4. Ng Lap Seng – holder of a Dominica diplomatic passport, currently in the custody of US law enforcement in New York awaiting trial on charges of bribery and money laundering.

5. Susan Olde – a Cayman Islands resident who reportedly paid US$400,000 for a diplomatic passport in 2004.

6. , a Russian, was appointed as Dominica’s representative to the World Trade Organisation, which was resisted by Switzerland.

Other Eastern Caribbean countries have by no means been immune to similar scandals involving diplomatic passports.

As long ago as June 25, 2000, convicted fraudster Eric Resteiner was said to have paid US$500,000 in cash to the prime minister of Grenada, Dr Keith Mitchell, for an appointment as an ambassador.

In December 2004, police in London arrested Reuben Morgan, a Canadian citizen carrying a St Vincent and the Grenadines diplomatic passport, with one kilo of cocaine in his possession.

In 2013, Alireza Moghadam, an Iranian, arrived in Canada with a St Kitts and Nevis diplomatic passport, claiming untruthfully that he was there to meet with officials, including the Canadian prime minister. Moghadam reportedly told Canadian immigration officials that he paid $1 million for his diplomatic passport.

Dr Arthur Porter, a Canadian who was later arrested in Panama but died before he could be extradited, reportedly persuaded then prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis, Dr Denzil Douglas, to appoint him honourary consul to The Bahamas, complete with diplomatic passport, in 2012 – after reports of his questionable activities surfaced in late 2011.

Godswill Obot Akpabio, the governor of Akwa Ibom state in Nigeria, reportedly also carries a St Kitts and Nevis diplomatic passport. Akpabio has been accused of orchestrating secret and silent killings, assassinations and unprecedented abuse of power.

An unnamed minister in the former government of Antigua and Barbuda was implicated in a scheme alleged to have taken place in 2013 to sell diplomatic appointments and passports to Chinese businessmen in exchange for hundreds of thousands of US dollars.

According to reliable sources, the following three individuals associated with the Antigua and Barbuda citizenship by investment programme are holders of that country’s diplomatic passports:

– Fahd Sattar Dero, the son of Sweet Homes owner Abdul Sattar Dero
– Vitaly V Kryuchkov, chairman of the TDI Group
– Ali Dakouri, owner of CTrust Global

In 2016, a judge in London ruled as “spurious” the diplomatic immunity asserted by Saudi billionaire Walid Juffali (since deceased) as ’s permanent representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Gilbert Chagoury, who was Saint Lucia’s representative at UNESCO, was criticised for allegedly buying his position.

In 2015, Le Matin Dimanche, a Swiss newspaper, reported on two businessmen who were appointed diplomats to United Nations offices in Geneva for Grenada and Saint Lucia respectively. The status was accorded by Swiss authorities in a process that appeared to be in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which outlines rules regarding diplomatic appointment as well as the privileges and the immunities given to diplomats.

The Convention also clearly states that diplomats should not practice commercial activity and that diplomatic status does not provide immunity from the civil and administrative jurisdiction of the receiving state for such activity. It also gives receiving states the right to declare a diplomat persona non grata or that any member of the staff of the mission in not acceptable.

In November 2015, the government of Antigua and Barbuda announced what purported to be major changes to the policy governing the issue of diplomatic passports.

Diplomatic passports are now issued to ambassadors at large, all ministers of government, the leader of the opposition, and president of the senate and the speaker of the house, as well as former prime ministers, governors general, national heroes, knights, dames and their spouses.

What were described as “official passports” will be issued to senior government officials, members of the senate, special economic envoys and those who the government believes will use the document to further the development of Antigua and Barbuda. However, it was not entirely clear if “official” is synonymous with “diplomatic” or if the new policy represents any real or effective change.

A so-called diplomatic passport is generally issued for official international travel and residence to a country’s diplomats – persons appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with other states and/or international organizations – and their accompanying dependants.

However, the broader subjective definition apparently embraced by Antigua and Barbuda in particular, namely, anyone who will use the document to further the development of the country, hardly seems calculated to limit the issue of diplomatic passports in that country at least.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit (L) and Alireza Zibahalat Monfared

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