Prime Minister and Minister for National Security, Dr Keith Mitchell has denied reports that a group had approached him seeking 1000 Grenadian passports at US $100, 000.00 each under its Citizenship by Investment (CBI) Programme.
The Prime Minister was responding to a question posed by veteran Broadcaster George Grant during last week Tuesday’s post-Cabinet press briefing about a deal in which the passports were allegedly intended for persons in China.
Grant said that his information is that the Prime Minister was reluctant to sell passports at such a lower price since it would be under-cutting the fees charged by two other Eastern Caribbean States, Dominica and St. Kitts who are into the sale of passports scheme.
According to the journalist, the information in his possession is that Dr. Mitchell was asking the group to pay US$200,000.00 for each passport.
The Prime Minister flatly denied knowledge of the alleged deal with the Chinese connection.
“You know sometimes you members of the press get more information before some of us … because I never heard this. Honestly, I’ve never heard it. I can’t say any member of the government has heard it, but I certainly have not heard this. No one has approached me about this”, he said.
Checks made by this newspaper suggest that a deal involving the sale of 1000 Grenadian passports was being actively pursued by some persons working as part of the political directorate.
A source who spoke on condition he was not named said that this US$100 million deal would have left some persons “filthy rich”.
He spoke of one person, identified as a lawyer was getting 60% while the other 40% of the fees worked out was earmarked for the person who had the connection with the outfit that was seeking the Grenadian passports for the Chinese.
Former Finance Minister, Nazim Burke confirmed to this newspaper last week that he was approached by a group with Chinese connection who was trying to push the 2008-13 Congress government into passing legislation to sell passports.
He said the “front man” for the group was trying to assure him that the Chinese were willing to purchase “thousands of passports” from Grenada as they seek to do business outside of the Asian continent.
During the press briefing last week, PM Mitchell was at pains to point out that his one-year old government was bent on doing the CBI right.
“We have a programme that we’re going forward with (the Citizenship By Investment Programme). We (are) going to ensure that all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed before we actually start to give total implementation to the programme, and we’re doing precisely this”, he said.
The Grenadian leader told reporters that interest in the Grenada programme is “very high” and he was confident that what is projected in earnings from the 2014 Budget will be realized.
The sale of passport legislation initially made provision for the publishing of specific information every six months including the names of persons granted citizenship status but it was rescinded by a recent amendment in Parliament.
Prime Minister Mitchell told the media that government’s decision to bar the publishing of the names was merely seeking to correct an error as there is no need to expose the names.
He said the mistake was made with the drafting of the Bill as no other country publishes the identity of citizenship applicants and as such government was advised that this could be a serious hindrance to the programme and hence the amendment.
“There is no need to expose every single name out in the public. We thought it unwise to do so”, he added.
The Prime Minister assured reporters that Government will do its checks to protect the country’s image from the sale of passports.
A previous programme had to be scrapped during the 1999 to 2003 period of Dr. Mitchell’s reign when several passports ended up in the hands of several questionable persons including the imprisoned Ambassador, Eric Resteiner.
Foreign Affairs Minister Nickolas Steele whose wife, attorney-at-law Michelle Emmanuel-Steele of he law firm Veritas Legal is an agent under the programme, also chipped in, saying it is important to protect the privacy of investors.
Sources within the government have told this newspaper that Grenada has not sold any passports so far under the scheme.