October 17, 2021

Open letter from Anthony Astaphan SC to Mondaq

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openletter121st September, 2015

Mr Charles Aspinwall
Mondaq
London Office

Dear Sir,

I am instructed by the Honourable Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda and the Attorney General on behalf of the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda with regard to an article written by one Ian Moncrief-Scott and published on Mondaq’s website on the 2nd September 2015 namely ‘Congressman McCaul: Antigua clamoring to sell passports to Syrian refugees who the make the ‘jump’ to the US Virgin Islands’.

I am instructed that:

i. Ian Moncrief-Scott has no integrity or credibility whatsoever. He is affiliated to a landowner in Antigua who has had an outstanding land matter with the last three Governments. The matter is now near closure. However Mr Moncrief-Scott has used a variety of media on the Internet to vilify the respective Prime Ministers, Finance Ministers and Attorneys-General in an attempt to intimidate or blackmail the Government. It is unfortunate that your Internet website has given considerable and sustained exposure to Mr Moncrief-Scott’s false and malicious writings.

Moncrief-Scott has no competence, experience or knowledge to make the false and insidious allegations he has made over the last 15 years or more, and especially in the article referred to above that you published;

ii. Your company published the article, or allowed or caused it to be published on the Internet without any attempt to seek comments from the Prime Minister or Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda or the persons involved in the CIP in Antigua and Barbuda whose reputations have also been tarnished or defamed by Mr Moncrief-Scott.

I am further instructed that:

i. The headline and article, Congressman McCaul: Antigua clamoring to sell passports to Syrian refugees who then make the ‘jump’ to the US Virgin Islands, are complete and malicious fabrications. The Congressman said no such thing. Nevertheless Moncrief-Scott has falsely misrepresented the Congressman and constructed a wicked fable to support his headline lie. (See the statements of Congressman McCaul. https://youtu.be/EYKKNx2HYb4);

ii. The allegations in the article are completely false for several reasons;

a. There is no basis in fact for the insidious allegations against the Prime Minister and Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda;

b. The Government and Citizenship by Investment unit (‘CIP’) do not sell passports. Passports are not for sale to any person, and the Prime Minister has never sold any passport whether to Syrian refugees as alleged or at all. This is utterly false;

c. No passport has been sold to any refugee from Syria, and none have used any Antiguan passport to ‘jump’ to the USVI. A few individuals were detained by the Antigua Government on suspicion that they may attempt illegally to go to the USVI. This had absolutely nothing to do with the CIP or Antigua and Barbuda passports. None of the persons detained were holders of Antigua and Barbuda passports whether under the CIP or otherwise. Notwithstanding these indisputable facts Moncrief-Scott completely distorted the facts and truth. (See http://antiguaobserver.com/benjamin-clears-14-syrians-of-trafficking-smuggling-charge/);

d. The CIP is not handled, managed or directed by the Prime Minister. A task force of qualified professionals from various sectors, and varying backgrounds manage the CIP. The CIP, as in every other democratic country, is regulated by law, namely the Citizenship by Investment Act of 2013;

e. Applicants under the CIP are subject to extensive qualifying criteria, which they must meet in order to gain citizenship. Once the initial criteria are met applicants are subject to extensive background checks through various international agencies. Antigua and Barbuda citizenship is therefore not granted unless due diligence takes place by authorized due diligence agents. These ‘due diligence’ agents are recognized internationally and they co-operate fully with reputable international agencies, including governments such as the US and the UK. Only when the due process is complete are applications are to the Minister and Cabinet for final approval. (See http://cip.gov.ag/schedule-of-fees/);

f. Importantly, Antigua and Barbuda passports are provided to the new citizens initially for a period of 5 years only. During this five-year period, any person granted citizenship under the CIP is subject to re-evaluation with due cause, and citizenship revoked where necessary. Additionally, after the period of 5 years every person is subject to a thorough due diligence process in order to determine whether that passport holder’s status has remained unchanged before the passport is renewed;

g. The number of applications granted and amounts collected are published by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda;

h. Moncrief-Scott’s suggestion that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has put a price on its Independence by embarking on the CIP is complete nonsense. Antigua and Barbuda has joined neighboring territories like Dominica in the Citizenship by Investment program. Grenada and Saint Lucia have recently passed CIP legislation. Additionally, there are several countries in the world with a variety of different or similar citizenship or residence programs. These countries have not been accused of compromising their Independence. Indeed in these very difficult economic times, international organizations and countries have recognized that the CIP is an important revenue-generating asset for the respective States. More importantly the CIP has been accepted by well-established institutions and Governments. No visa or other restrictions have been imposed on passport holders. Antiguan and Barbudans travel to Canada visa free and can travel to countries of the European Union for up to 90 days without a visa.

Further I am instructed by the Attorney General to advise that the allegations against him are also false. For example Moncrief-Scott wrote:

This brought up memories of a recent public scandal. While still in private practice, “Cutie” was involved in a well-publicised case of passport fraud, in which he was paid to certify a forged passport. Two other individuals involved in the transaction were found guilty, fined and imprisoned for several years each. Benjamin’s part in the fraud was recognised by the High Court, dismissed by the Court of Appeal, and reinstated by the Privy Council’s judgment that his actions were subject to criminal indictment back in Antigua.

Once returned to Antigua, the matter was dropped, with Cutie continuing to claim “ignorance” and the Director of Public Prosecution asserting that there is not enough evidence to proceed with the case.

These allegations are unadulterated fabrications and false for the following among other reasons

i. Mr Steadroy Benjamin was never involved, accused or charged in relation to any passport fraud;

ii. It is a matter of public record that the charges, which were laid against Mr Benjamin while he was not in government, concerned the signing of a form for a passport and nothing else. The Director of Public Prosecutions (‘the DPP’) and the investigation officer were opposed to any complaint. The DPP’s position was, and is, there was no evidence whatsoever to support the complaints. These complaints were nevertheless laid by officers of the Royal Antigua and Barbuda Police Force because and only because of direct political interference. The complaints filed were drafted not by the DPP or Police but by a member of the Executive Branch of the Government;

iii. The Application referred to by Moncrief-Scott never dealt with the facts or substance. It concerned a single procedural point; whether the DPP could instruct the Police not to charge. It was this procedural point which was dealt with by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and nothing else. It is therefore false, dishonest and malicious for Moncrief-Scott to allege ‘Benjamin’s part in the fraud was recognised by the High Court.’ There was no issue of fraud before the High Court and no such recognition is in the judgement of the High Court;

vi. The complaints against Mr Benjamin were dropped by the very Commissioner of Police who conceded in the Magistrate’s Court that there was no evidence to support the complaints. This concession directly supports Mr. Benjamin’s public complaint that he was at all times a victim of political interference if not persecution.

The allegations against the Prime Minister and Attorney General are therefore premised on misrepresentations and fabrications, and are scandalous and malicious. Additionally, they are gravely defamatory to them in their personal, and official capacities. The allegations also constitute a nakedly false attack against the CIP and State of Antigua and Barbuda and are nothing short of expressions of hate in furtherance of some malicious campaign on the part of Moncrief-Scott. Nevertheless, this article by Moncrief-Scott, which was manifestly calculated to cause, and has and will cause considerable harm to the Prime Minister and Attorney General. This article will also cause considerable harm and damage to the CIP and the State of Antigua and Barbuda.

There ought to be no question that Mondaq has a very wide audience worldwide, and that this article has been given very wide publication and reach. As mentioned earlier the article was published on your company’s website without any inquiry of them. Since the publication on Mondaq several persons, and authorities around the world have informed the Prime Minister of this article. Copies of the article were downloaded and sent to him. Many of the persons have expressed alarm, anxiety and deep concern to him and various other representatives including Ambassadors of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. This is an unacceptable state of affairs to my clients.

In all of the circumstances my clients instruct that I demand the immediate retraction of the said article and its removal from your website. They further demand the publication of this letter on all publications and Internet websites under your control in which Moncrief-Scott’s false and malicious article was published, republished or circulated.

I look forward to confirmation of your receipt of this letter and your compliance with my clients’ requests, failing which appropriate action will be instituted. In the meantime, my clients reserve their rights in this matter including the right to compensation and costs.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully

ANTHONY W. ASTAPHAN, SC

cc Mr Steadroy Benjamin, Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda

END
IMAGE: wemakemovies.org

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