The process of due diligence conducted under the Keith Mitchell government’s Citizenship By Investment programme, is once again coming under heavy scrutiny with the surfacing of information suggesting a potential criminal background of one of the principal investors of the Levera Project, which broke ground in the north of the island in November.
The main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) at its weekly press conference Monday called on the Keith Mitchell-led government in St. George’s to clear the air on the Oveson matter.
Congress leader, Senator Nazim Burke pointed to information obtained from Utahsright.com website which shows that a person bearing the name Robert Martin Oveson has had at least four convictions of a criminal nature.
Sen. Burke told reporters that while at this point it cannot be determined whether or not “the person who is referred to as Robert Martin Oveson in Mexico and the person who is referred to as Martin Robert Oveson in Utah is one and the same person as Robert Martin Oveson, who is now the principal in the Levera Project…considering that the names are coinciding…we would want to be satisfied as a nation that sufficient professional due diligence has indeed been conducted…and that this person who has now come to set up the Levera project is not the criminal that is being referred to in Utah and the fraud activities in Mexico”.
“We call on the Ministry of Finance, National Security and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to ensure that a thorough investigative job is done and that the results of such an investigation are made known,” he remarked.
NDC Deputy Political Leader, Joseph Andall voiced concern that the highly anticipated “Levera project is now under a cloud,” raising critical questions dealing with the level of due diligence that is done when potential investors come forward or are sought by government.
This, he said “is critical because we must always bear in mind the burns that we have suffered from many of these so-called investors in the past under the New National Party administration”.
Andall urged the Mitchell government to “carry out detailed investigations into the background of the investors to ensure that the image of Grenada is not further tarnished and if anything untoward is found to take all necessary measures to protect the good name and reputation of our country”.
“It is important for our country’s development that the investors we seek or the people who come to us as investors be above reproach and that they have no cloud hanging over their heads because all these things would negatively affect the investor climate,” he said.
“When you add that to the fact that our Doing Business ranking continues to plummet (and) that Grenada has the dubious distinction of being perceived as the most corrupt country in the Windward Islands, when we see what is happening to the Rex Grenadian, Mrs. (Roylyn) Nyack of the (former) Riviera Hotel, we must be concerned that our country may be slipping down a slippery and dangerous slope,” he added.
The Robert Martin Oveson issue was also highlighted at Tuesday’s press conference called by the ruling New National Party (NNP) of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell in light of questions raised about the kind of due diligence that was done on the investor.
The party’s Public Relations Officer, Sen. Simon Stiell affirmed government’s view that the accusations levelled at Oveson “are only allegations” and will be treated as such by the administration.
He referred to the statement put out by the Levera Group on Monday threatening legal action against THE NEW TODAY over the publication of the article on Oveson and his role in the failed Mexican project.
Sen. Stiell said: “In his press statement…he (Oveson) made it clear that he disagrees and refutes those allegations…he stated that no charges have been brought and (that) the matter is being dealt with…I think we need to leave him (and) the investment group to address those issues:
According to Sen. Stiell, he cannot speak to the allegations about Oveson’s criminal record and the failed Mexican project since these “were made outside our jurisdictions,” but he indicated that “extensive due diligence is carried out by multiple agencies” under the island’s passport selling scheme known as Citizenship by Investment (CBI).
Sports Minister Roland Bhola also commented on the Oveson affair, saying that government has an obligation to investigate the matter.
“We have a responsibility to the Grenadian public to further investigate the allegations and ensure that we get the facts (from) the people who are responsible for doing the due diligence for our programme…and we don’t have that answer yet,” the minister said.
When asked for clarification about the level of investigations being undertaken, Minister Bhola said: “I wouldn’t put it down to launching an investigation because (that) seems to suggest something different.
What I am saying is that we have heard the allegations…the gentleman has refuted the allegations and has said that he will be taking a course of action as a result.
“We have to protect the integrity of the programme (and) the name of our country and to ensure that Grenadians can walk proud. We have had past history of all different things happening (and) it is our responsibility now as a government now that something is in the air, whether it’s true or not true we have a responsibility as a government to make sure that yes, we look into the matter and we verify what we are hearing.”
The Levera saga has unfolded approximately seven months after the United States Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it had laid fraud charges against Chinese investor, Charles Liu and his wife, the main architects behind the US$2 billion dollar Mt. Hartman project in the south of the island.