October 25, 2017
Photo: Guy Joseph
WASHINGTON, USA (Caribbean News Now) — According to a blog post earlier this month by Washington-based whistleblower author and fraud recovery attorney Brian Mahany, the government of Saint Lucia has asked the US government for assistance in its criminal investigation in relation to the proposed redevelopment of the of the Hewanorra International Airport.
The targets of that probe are said to be Guy Joseph, minister for economic development, housing, urban renewal, transport and civil aviation, and Antonio Assenza, owner of a construction company in Saint Lucia called Asphalt & Mining Company Limited (A&M).
A&M was the subject of a public address at a political rally in late 2015 by then-prime minister, Dr Kenny Anthony, who asserted that, shortly before general elections were due to be held in 2011, Joseph approached then Prime Minister Stephenson King and offered him a bribe of $5 million if King would sign, as prime minister, a US$140 million contract with A&M for the redevelopment of Hewanorra International Airport.
According to Anthony’s St Lucia Labour Party (SLP), Assenza was actively involved in various negotiations in relation to the airport project.
Specifically, a letter was reportedly sent to Assenza (described therein as the “President” of A&M) by BB&T Debt Capital Markets and SPP Capital Partners LLC, two companies based in New York, which were supposed to raise the financing required for the airport project. SPP Capital Partners LLC was described as advisors to Assenza’s company.
The SLP claimed that the letter in question clearly indicated that Assenza signed a relevant agreement not only on his behalf but also on behalf of the Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority (SLASPA), a Saint Lucia government statutory authority, something that the SLP described as a “most unusual occurrence.”
King refused to sign the proposed contract or accept the proffered bribe, and Joseph has denied that the incident took place at all.
However, this is not the first time that Joseph and A&M have featured in local controversy.
Following general elections in Saint Lucia in 2006 that resulted in the UWP assuming office as the country’s new government, Joseph was appointed minister for communications, works, transport and public utilities. At some point thereafter, A&M was awarded two substantial so-called “direct purchase” contracts allegedly at the behest of Joseph as the responsible minister without any advertising or any competitive bidding.
One contract to rehabilitate the Babonneau Highway in Saint Lucia was valued at EC$12.24 million (US$4.5 million), while the other to rehabilitate the Desruisseaux Road was valued at EC$10.55 million (US$3.9 million).
Both contracts were later revealed to be significantly overpriced.
The proposed US$140 million contract for the redevelopment of Hewanorra Airport was also to be awarded to A&M on a “direct purchase” basis without any advertising or any competitive bidding.
The allegations against Joseph have been extensively aired on local television by one of his former ministerial colleagues, Richard Frederick.
Frederick, as then-minister for housing, urban renewal and local government, was allegedly also offered a bribe of $1 million by Joseph for facilitating King’s signature as prime minister on the contract with A&M.
In June of this year, the SLP has called on Prime Minister Allen Chastanet to dispel a growing public perception that he is facilitating misdeeds committed by Joseph, by all indications his closest political partner.
The SLP also appealed to the prime minister to explain why he remains powerless in the face of bold abuses of office by Joseph.
While there have been reliable reports that US authorities are investigating the connection between Assenza and Joseph in the context of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), this is the first indication that the Saint Lucia government may also be conducting its own investigation.