(Caribbean News Now) LONDON, England — The recently published House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMSC) interim report on disinformation and ‘fake news’ has urged the British government to ensure that the National Crime Agency thoroughly investigates the alleged undermining of democracies in many countries, including a number in the Caribbean, by Cambridge Analytica, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) and citizenship consultants Henley & Partners.
“We received disturbing evidence, some of which we have published, some of which we have not, of activities undertaken by the SCL-linked companies in various political campaigns dating from around 2010, including the use of hacking, of disinformation, and of voter suppression.
“We also heard of the links between SCL and Christian Kalin of Henley and Partners and their involvement in election campaigns, in which Mr Kalin already ran or subsequently launched citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programmes, involving the selling of countries’ passports to investors.
“We do not have the remit or the capacity to investigate these claims ourselves, but we urge the government to ensure that the National Crime Agency thoroughly investigates these allegations,” the report said.
The DCMSC noted that, in 2015, STM Group plc (STM), a multi-jurisdictional financial services group, became the first company in Jersey to be prosecuted for money laundering compliance failures. STM was managing operations for Henley and, previously, in 2010, STM had used Henley to help the Ukrainian politician, Viacheslav Suprunenko, apply for a passport in St Kitts and Nevis. He was at the time wanted by Interpol for assault during an armed robbery to recover documents in a business dispute.
“We were told that behind much of SCL Elections’ campaigning work was the hidden hand of Christian Kalin, chairman of Henley and Partners, who arranged for investors to supply the funding to pay for campaigns, and then organised SCL to write their manifesto and oversee the whole campaign process. In exchange, Alexander Nix told us, Henley and Partners would gain exclusive passport rights for that country, under a citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programme,” the report said.
Alexander Nix and Christian Kalin are described as having a ‘Faustian pact’ and with the exclusive passport rights came a government that would be conducive to Kalin and his clients.
The CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, told the committee that, at times, SCL would undertake eight, nine or ten elections a year, “and we are not limited by geography, so this really could be from the Caribbean to Asia to Africa to Europe or everywhere”.
When asked about his involvement in the elections with Kalin, including in St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and a constitutional referendum in St Vincent and the Grenadines, he responded: “I was familiar with Christian Kalin because he had worked in some of the Caribbean islands. I know he used to run a citizen-by-investment programme, certainly in St Kitts and possibly Dominica. I do not know about the other countries.”
Nix told the committee that Kalin “may well have made contributions towards the election campaigns, but you would have to talk to him about that. […] [M]y understanding is that he may well have financed some of the elections or given contributions towards some of the elections”.
The report explored some specific examples of misinformation, disinformation, and malign manipulation that the SCL Group and associated companies undertook in certain countries.
St Kitts and Nevis
SCL worked on a campaign to win the 2010 general election in St Kitts and Nevis and, according to Freddy Gray, of The Spectator:
“SCL practised the dirty trick – or ‘counter ops’ – that Nix was caught bragging about to undercover reporters in [… the] Channel 4 expose. Nix was not exaggerating. One of the dirty tricks was a sting operation in St Kitts and Nevis. SCL filmed the opposition leader, Lindsay Grant, being offered a bribe by an undercover operative posing as a real-estate investor. Grant didn’t exactly help himself by accepting the bribe and even suggesting which offshore bank accounts the money could be paid into.”
According to evidence received by the committee, this sting operation was arranged entirely by SCL, with the undercover operative – a temporary SCL employee – being paid around £10,000 (US$13,000) by Nix, for the work that they had carried out. Nix told the committee that Kalin ran a citizenship-by investment programme in St Kitts and Nevis.
When asked to comment on whether the sting on Grant, orchestrated and filmed by SCL, happened, Nix told the committee that that was nothing more sinister than the undercover reporting by Channel 4 on the activities of Cambridge Analytica and SCL, and implied that both the SCL and Channel 4’s reporting were equivalent in nature.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” the committee said. “Channel 4’s investigation was legitimate journalism; SCL’s activities involved the offering of a bribe to an opposition leader, with the explicit intention of influencing an election.”
Henley held the exclusive passport rights for St Kitts and Nevis since before 2009.
Trinidad and Tobago
SCL worked on elections in Trinidad and Tobago in 2010, where its main contact for organising payments related to the campaign appears to have been the disgraced former FIFA executive Jack Warner.
Evidence submitted by Christopher Wylie highlighted the fact that SCL was influencing the election by disseminating disinformation about the voting preferences of young adults, by fabricating content that they said had come from young people, and then acting on those views, working from a 2009 finding that Trinidadian elections are affected by the population’s mixed ethnicity and political leaders from one group have difficulty in making their messages resonate with those outside of it.
SCL designed an ambitious campaign of political graffiti that disseminated campaign messages that ostensibly came from the youth. The client party was then able to adopt related policies and claim credit for listening to a ‘united youth’.
The committee also touched upon the CBI programme in Malta, where Henley has been the exclusive passport agent since it helped to launch the programme in 2013. Henley was granted permission to control the selling of citizenship to eligible investors in Malta, at a cost of €650,000 per passport. As Malta is in the EU, this was especially valuable.
“We have evidence to show that Dr Kalin was meeting representatives from both political sides in Malta, with a view to mutually-beneficial arrangements. The evidence also shows that Christian Kalin asked SCL to introduce him to Joseph Muscat, the leader of the opposition at the time, in June 2011, and indicates that SCL had been advising Malta’s Labour Party for several years before the 2013 elections. It is believed that SCL, or its associated companies, worked with the Labour Party there, on the 2013 general election campaign in Malta,” the report said.
Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist, was investigating the Maltese CBI passport scheme, as well as organised crime in Malta. In October 2017, she was assassinated by a car bomb. On her blog, she wrote, “The damage caused to Malta by the sale of citizenship is unquantifiable. Malta is not St Kitts and Nevis. It is interlocked with the rest of the European Union and has a European economy. […] And the Maltese government is the only EU member state government with which they [Henley] have a contract.”
A week after Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, the Maltese prime minister, Joseph Muscat, attended a ‘Global Citizenship’ conference in Dubai, which was hosted by Henley, saying that Malta was ‘open for business’.
Recently, the committee also noted, Lord Ashcroft, who also has extensive interests in Belize and the Turks and Caicos Islands, extolled the virtues of Malta, as the “best destination for ambitious UK firms” to have a post-Brexit presence in the EU.
St. Lucia and Dominica
SCL is also known to have influenced or attempted to manipulate the outcome of elections in Dominica and Saint Lucia, where Henley also have an interest in the management of the CBI programmes.
In Saint Lucia, SCL worked with the ruling United Workers Party (UWP) and the then Stephenson King administration during the 2011 general elections. During the 2018 budget debate, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet admitted that Cambridge Analytica worked with the UWP during its successful 2016 elections campaign.
Henley was also active in Saint Lucia during the 2016 general elections campaign. Just ahead of the June 6 poll, the firm, which is involved in a deep and competitive rivalry with Arton Capital for contracts to run CBI programmes in the Caribbean, issued a negative press statement on the Saint Lucia CBI programme, which received widespread media coverage.
After the UWP formed the new government, Arton Capital was dismissed forthwith and replaced with Henley as the lead marketing agent for the Saint Lucia citizenship programme.
However, in Dominica, similar efforts by SCL to secure an election victory for the opposition party have consistently failed, and Henley is still on the outside looking in as regards the citizenship programme there.
SCL is also thought to have worked with the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) in its political campaign in Antigua and Barbuda ahead of the March 21 general elections, which was noteworthy for the amount of misinformation and fabricated smears directed at Prime Minister Gaston Browne and his government.
In 2012, SCL helped manage a campaign in the five-constituency island of Grand Bahama, something that has not been widely reported elsewhere.