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Antiguan minister resigns from Cabinet

by: - May 16, 2018
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Asot Michael (File Photo)

Scandal-hit Asot Michael, Minister of Investment and Trade, resigned from Cabinet yesterday, amid allegations that he demanded money from property tycoon, British investor, Peter Virdee.

It was just after noon when Michael’s resignation was made public following what was described as hours of deliberation in Cabinet on Monday and Tuesday.

According to the letter of resignation which he gave to Prime Minister Gaston Browne, Michael’s departure takes effect on May 17.

While vehemently denying seeking bribes as suggested in the court proceedings in the United Kingdom, Michael, in a statement to the media said, “I emphasize that I am not a party to the court proceedings in the United Kingdom which have been reported in the media, nor have I been charged with any wrongdoing. The media reports refer to recordings of conversations between persons other than myself, and I cannot be held responsible for their utterances.”

Michael’s resignation comes on the heels of allegations that while he was the minister of energy in 2016, he demanded money, a car, and campaign finance from Virdee, or as the U.K. press calls him “Batman.”

Virdee made the allegation in phone conversations with another businessman, Dieter Trutschler, in March 2016.

His telephone calls were secretly intercepted by German law enforcement, and now excerpts from the recorded surveillance have surfaced in a United Kingdom High Court judgment.

Michael said, “The allegations have caused anxiety in some quarters of our society and are being used by opposition political elements to discredit me and the government.”

He stated that he will continue to support the party under which he was re-elected to parliament on March 21, 2018 as he works “in the interest of constituents.” He noted that he has given two decades of service to the advancement of the country.

“I have not worked so diligently over the last 21 years for the advancement of Antigua and Barbuda, and in support of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP), to allow the reputation and standing of the nation and the party to be tarnished by political actors who are determined [to] pull down the government and the party by besmirching me. The nation of Antigua and Barbuda and the [ABLP] government remain of first and foremost importance to me,” Michael wrote.

The member of parliament for St. Peter said he will use all available resources to continue work to counter and disprove the allegations made against him.

Over the weekend, after the latest news broke from the U.K court, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, downplayed the matter as nothing new. But yesterday, he accepted Michael’s resignation, reportedly, without hesitation, and advised Governor General Sir Rodney Williams to revoke his appointment to Cabinet.

Specifically, on Sunday, Browne told our newsroom, “This is not a new issue. The matter is still before the court and I’m not in a position to pronounce on his innocence or guilt.”

When further asked whether he would approach Michael on the matter, Browne replied, “We have to allow for due process and we’ll see how this matter advances, and if it is that he is found guilty of a bribe or attempted bribe, I’ll have to reconsider whether or not he should serve in the government.”

Last October Browne had fired MP Michael from his post immediately after he was detained in the U.K. in relation to the bribery probe by the National Crime Agency.

Michael spent a day in custody after he was escorted from the U.K. airport for questioning and was subsequently released without charge.

The NCA had said the investigation would continue and charges were not being ruled out against the then minister of energy and tourism.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Michael also responded to the latest claims in the judgment, saying “Virdee can say anything” but he (Michael) “never asked him or anyone else for a bribe.”

Michael further said he has “nothing to hide.”

Last December, when Prime Minister Browne, who leads the ruling ABLP administration, announced that the party continues to “embrace” Michael, he also said charges would mean the end of Michael within the ABLP.

It should be noted that despite resigning from Cabinet yesterday, Michael is still an ABLP Member of Parliament.