October 25, 2017
Photo: Prime Minister Gaston Browne
ST JOHN’S, Antigua (Caribbean News Now) — Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne has rejected criticism from the opposition and others that his decision to suspend the appointment of tourism and investment minister Asot Michael following his arrest in London on Monday was premature.
Browne said that he “never takes premature decisions, no matter how speedily the decision was made.”
After being informed on Monday that Michael had been detained for questioning by police in London, the prime minister immediately announced that he had suspended Michael from his Cabinet post.
“While I have no firm details of the reasons for Mr Michael’s arrest, the arrest itself is sufficient for me to suspend him immediately as a Cabinet member and to relieve him of all his ministerial portfolios until this matter is resolved one way or the other,” Browne said on Monday.
The prime minister added: “I have repeatedly stated that I expect every member of my government to comply with the highest possible standards required of public office, and while Mr Michael might establish his innocence in time, the fact that he has been arrested now, obliges me to relieve him of all government duties.”
Michael was released later the same day, after what he claimed in a press statement was a routine arrest and interview – something, he said, that “is often done when persons are travelling and not expected to remain in the United Kingdom.”
“I was not charged with any offence, I am not on bail, and the police did not seek to impose any restriction on my travel,” he said.
“However, in the circumstances I consider that the prime minister’s decision in this case, to relieve me of my ministerial responsibilities, is likely to be due to a misapprehension of what has taken place, and second hand information, indeed misinformation,” Michael added.
He also refuted a report that the police in London informed him that he would be required for further questioning.
“This is untrue. The police did not say this to me,” Michael said.
Nevertheless, in a subsequent statement, Patrick Reilly, head of the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico Department (CCMD) at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, said that the possibility of criminal charges in due course cannot be ruled out.
Reilly confirmed that Michael was arrested for questioning in connection with a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation into bribes paid by a UK national for business contracts in the Caribbean.