Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Antigua diplomat to repay money, denies accepting bribe

Published:Friday | December 30, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda, Gaston Browne.

Casroy James, Antigua and Barbuda's diplomat to the United Arab Emirates, has denied being involved in corrupt activities related to the Brazilian multinational Odebrecht S.A. and the energy company Petrobras.

The twin-island state became embroiled in the scandal after court documents revealed that a high-level government official accepted millions of dollars in bribes.

The revelation was made as investigation continues into corruption at global construction conglomerate Odebrecht, based in Brazil, the same company which court documents show acquired Meinl Bank Antigua in 2010

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Gaston Browne dismissed Honorary Consul to Brazil Luis Franca and also asked James to explain his involvement in the matter.

According to court documents, "in or about mid-2015, Odebrecht Employee 4 attended a meeting in Miami, Florida, with a consular official from Antigua and an intermediary to a high-level government official in Antigua, in order to conceal Odebrecht's corrupt activities."

Admitted to receiving payments

In a press statement, James admitted to receiving payments from Meinl Bank, but said this was based on his work as an independent consultant.

He also denied knowing that his client was involved in any alleged illegal activity, "nor did I have reason to believe that Meinl Bank was in any way affiliated to Odebrecht".

Odebrecht reportedly purchased Meinl Bank allegedly to pay bribes to government officials in about a dozen countries.

James, who said that he is the sole principal of Global Residence and Advisory Services Limited, said he attended a meeting in Miami in a personal and professional capacity and "not as an agent of the Antigua and Barbuda government or an agent for any Antiguan government official".

"As an outcome of that meeting, my company entered into an agreement with an affiliate of Meinl Bank (Antigua) Ltd, in which my company would act as an agent and adviser for the purposes of processing applications" associated with a Meinl Bank project. "This agreement was made on 1st October 2015," the release stated.

James said that pursuant to that agreement, professional consultancy services were provided by his company and certain advance payments were also made. He said that the last payment was made in December 2015.

James was officially appointed as Antigua and Barbuda's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates in July 2016.

He said that based on the allegations made by the US government in court papers, he has agreed to repay money paid to him for independent consultancy work.

"So as to ensure that the integrity of my office as ambassador is in no way compromised (and, by extension, the good name of Antigua and Barbuda), and in discussion with my attorney, I have instructed that 100 per cent of the custodial funds being held on account" for the stated project "be immediately returned to the remitter."

He added that the funds received by his company were pursuant to a business agreement entered into with good faith.

"Despite my best efforts to carry out my services under the consultancy contract, the application process stalled partly due to lack of complete due diligence information from the potential applicants. The agreement was not part of any scheme whereby my company or I agreed to do anything unlawful, including withholding banking information relating to illicit bribery payments," he said.

Wasn't aware of case

The statement from the ambassador was issued only hours after Prime Minister Browne announced the dismissal of the honorary consul.

Browne had also threatened to dismiss James, insisting that his administration was not aware of the court case in the United States or the allegations made by a witness in the case until a regional newspaper journalist contacted his office.

While Browne was not specific about his reasons for dismissing the honorary consul or asking James for an explanation, last week the government issued a statement indicating that it was intent on getting "to the bottom of this story since it alleges involvement by persons claiming to be intermediaries for, or officials of, the government".

The court documents said an employee of the Brazilian company "requested that the high-level official refrain from providing to international authorities various banking documents that would reveal illicit payments made by the Division of Structured Operations on behalf of Odebrecht, and agreed to pay four million US dollars to the high-level official to refrain from sending the documents."

Last week, Prime Minister Browne announced that the country's ambassador to the United States, Ronald Sanders, had "advised the US State Department of the steps that were being taken in Antigua".

- CMC