By Sloan Smith
NASSAU, Bahamas — Attorney General Carl Bethel said he has forwarded the allegations of an alleged US visa scam in The Bahamas to the Anti-Corruption Unit of the police force.
The claims, revealed in an undercover United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) operation, were outlined in an affidavit filed in Washington, DC, by FBI Special Agent Kevin Gounaud.
Minister of national security, Marvin Dames, said the commissioner of police and his team will be briefed by the FBI to obtain information regarding the matter.
Bethel, who was asked about the matter outside Cabinet, said, “I’m not dealing with issues like that. Those are matters of state and they’ll be dealt with through the appropriate channels.
“…I can only say that as soon as I received a copy of a sworn affidavit lodged in foreign proceedings that named certain names – I was away in Paris at the time – I immediately forwarded it to my officials and instructed that it be referred to the Anti-Corruption Unit of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, since early last week, and that is where the matter stands.
“It is a matter that the police have been asked to investigate. Let’s bear in mind that what we have at present are unverified allegations made against public servants in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and in foreign proceedings and we owe it both to the administration of justice and to these persons to have this matter reviewed, so that if there is nothing that can substantiate it, that will be known; if there is some other problem, well that will also be dealt with. That is where we are.
“I just want to assure the Bahamian people that so far as the due administration of law is concerned, we are doing exactly what we need to do to properly ensure that we have good governance in The Bahamas.”
Bethel added, “That is a matter that firstly will find its expression in the relation between our ministry of foreign affairs and the United States, and will also involve us ascertaining what the facts of the matter are, and exactly what may or may not have been done in the territorial boundary of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas. These things depend on the facts. We are seeking to ascertain them.”
The affidavit reads, “In October 2016, the FBI and the Department of State Office of the Inspector General (DOS-OIG) initiated a joint investigation of foreign nationals fraudulently obtaining visitor visas from the United States Embassy in Nassau, The Bahamas.”
According to Gounaud, Edward Israel Saintil, a foreign national living in The Bahamas, claimed in conversations with an undercover informant he could help him obtain Bahamian work permits and facilitate the illegal entry of two men into the United States.
Former director of immigration William Pratt has since released a statement denying that he ever sold or received bribes for work permits when he served as director.
Dames, who was also asked about the matter outside Cabinet, said, “We have had some initial discussions with the US.
“The FBI is now working in consultation with the Royal Bahamas Police Force who will receive a further briefing on the information they may have at their disposal and we will determine from that information whether any laws in The Bahamas [have] been broken.
“Now I want to be very careful and I want you to understand me very clearly, alright? I’m not going to speak specifically to that matter.
“There are… a number of persons, a few who I know personally, whose names had been out there in social media and in the papers.
“To date we have no information, none whatsoever, despite what may have been reported in the press, implicating any of these individuals, and so I want to make that very clear.
“Now as the police work with the FBI and as they receive their briefing, because I know that the commissioner had a recent meeting and he and his team will be briefed shortly on what information that may be out there, that may be in possession of the FBI, they will have an opportunity to look at that and to make some determination from that information again as to whether there is anything in there that may implicate anyone here and whether any laws here in The Bahamas have been broken.
“And if it is found out that evidence does in fact exist and that persons here have been involved and laws here [have] been broken, then we have to do, that is the Royal Bahamas Police Force that is, they’ll have to do what they have to do.”
He added that countries sharing information is “nothing new”.
“These are ongoing partnerships that we continue to have with countries around the world,” Dames said.
“And as countries do their own investigations and the investigations reach a stage where they can affix charges and put people before the courts and now they feel here is an opportunity we [have to] now share whatever we have, whenever we have it, we do the same thing, okay; this is no different.
“If we are investigating something and then it leads into another country, we share. And we say here is what we have, you make a determination whether any of your laws have been broken and how can we work together jointly to ensure that we are able to bring those who are responsible wherever they may be to justice. That’s how it works.”
Minister of immigration, Brent Symonette, once again opted not to comment on the matter.