Suspicion looms over CBI operations

Suspicion hangs over the revocation without explanation of a local agent on the Citizenship by Investment Screening Committee and three persons believed to be Chinese nationals who were granted Grenadian citizenship.

Holocuff - refused to give reasons for revocations made under the programme

Holocuff – refused to give reasons for revocations made under the programme

Addressing the media last week Wednesday, Political Leader of the main Opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Senator Nazim Burke took issue with the “circumstances under which the CBI is operating” in the country.

Sen. Burke expressed concern that “no explanation has been given for the revocation of Attorney-at-Law Venescia Francis-Banfield as an agent on the Screening Committee” that was set up to review applications for Grenadian citizenship under the Citizenship by Investment Programme, which was established in 2013.

According to Burke, the Keith Mitchell-led administration had announced Banfield’s sacking in the October 24, 2015 issue of the Government gazette.

“The fact that a member is being pulled out  of the committee is questionable (and) raises doubt about the integrity of the programme and whether or not that person may be concerned herself about what is going on. The circumstances here are highly suspicious,” he told reporters.

Sen. Burke also reported that in the February 5, 2016 issue of the gazette it had revoked the permanent residence certificates and citizenship (from) “what appears to be three Chinese nationals (Yaobo Fu holder of passport No. G1005122, Gingzhou Zhang holder of passport No.G1005123 and Yachon Xu holder of passport No. G1005124.”

“We do not know the circumstances of the revocations,” he said, adding that “the public needs to understand the circumstances leading to revocations.”

Sen. Burke further stated that in the same issue of the gazette (February 5), government announced that it has given permission to someone by the name of “Janelle Ferguson (a Barrister-at-Law) to set up a new agency called Everyday Legal (under the CBI),” which operates at the corner of Scott Street and H.A. Blaize Street in St. George’s.

“It is interesting (to note) that Ms. Banfield’s practice (also) operates out of the same building at the corner of Scott Street and H. A. Blaize Street,” Sen. Burke said.

Sen.Burke told reporters that the NDC has been reliably informed that “Ms. Ferguson is not a member of the local Bar.”

The building under suspicion is said to be owned by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell who has declared his local assets at EC$19 million

The building under suspicion is said to be owned by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell who has declared his local assets at EC$19 million

The NDC political leader made it clear that his party is not “suggesting anything suspicious of Ms. Ferguson or Ms. Banfield (but) the circumstances seem to be showing that this building at the corner of H. A. Blaize and Scott Street is deserving of some kind of investigation.”

“We know for sure that the building is owned by the Honourable Dr. Keith Claudius Mitchell, who has the deeds for the lands…and we know that business is going on there involving Citizenship By Investment and these circumstances need to be investigated,” he charged.

“…We are extremely worried about this programme because all of the things that we hoped would not happen are in fact happening,” said Sen. Burke who also called for “government to be transparent with the programme.”

“Too much is at stake,” he said, pointing out that “one bad mistake can lead to fatal consequences for the country and its economy.”

Last week Friday THE NEW TODAY sought an explanation from Chairman of the CBI Screening Committee, David Holocuff, who refused to comment on the issue.

“I will not speak on that particular one,” he said.

However, the CBI chairman explained that “the particulars of why somebody is accepted rejected or ultimately revoked really falls into adhering to the regulations and the law that governs the CBI.”

Holocuff pointed out that the deliberations that take place in the CBI committee and Cabinet are done in confidence and “we don’t actually like to speak about the exact reasons as to why somebody might be turned down.”

Generally speaking, he said, “it comes down to the fundamentals (such as) have they done projects like this before, do they have a track record of it, their experience, how good is their plan (et cetera) and if you don’t meet the criteria you’re going to struggle to get an approved project.”

However, the CBI Chairman stated that the regulations and application process of the passport selling programme is aimed at attracting the highest quality of people.

“I think a large part of what Grenada is trying to achieve is quality and longevity of the programme and projects that will actually be built…it is not necessarily easy but I don’t think the bar has been set (too) high that it can’t be achieved”, he said.

During last week Wednesday’s weekly NDC press conference Sen. Burke recalled that “in the budget that was read before (Parliament passed the bill) in April 2013, the government announced that it had already chosen (the members of a CBI) committee, even before the law was passed…and named the Attorney General as the Chairman of that committee.”

He recalled that when Parliament initially passed the Citizenship by Investment Bill, in July 2013, providing for the establishment of the CBI, “we (the NDC) were concerned that this piece of legislation did not provide for sufficient rigour in the establishment of the screening mechanisms and arrangements that will ensure that those who come into the county and obtain Grenadian citizenship were properly screened and we were not exposing ourselves to the risk that persons who are undesirables will come to the country as citizens and hold Grenadian passports”.

Burke said he had expressed the view back then that “this kind of arrangement required a very tight screening mechanism” and pointed out that “we (Grenada) do not have many embassies abroad (or) people with the knowledge of international security (or) links with some of the international security agencies that engage in due diligence to search these kinds of persons…so that by the time these persons come in they would have already gone through certain level of screening and the local body will then make a determination based on the recommendation from prior screening bodies or a competent agency or authority.”

The NDC Political Leader holds the view that with the “security implications involving the American-owned St. George’s University (SGU),” which is located at True Blue in Grand Anse “Grenada cannot afford to misstep on the CBI programme.”

Referring to the “close to 6000 students on campus”, Burke said “it is no secret that in this modern age of terror, American persons, institutions and assets are the targets of terrorist attacks.”

“American planes fly here weekly…at some times carrying hundreds of American students and so SGU as an American University and one that contributes close to 20% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), we cannot afford to have a single mistake with somebody at SGU,” he said.

“God forbid if anyone (an American) were to be hurt under suspicious circumstances – it could potentially lead to a pull out (by) SGU, a breakdown in relations with the United States and other negative consequences,” he added.

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