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OPINION: A challenge to ‘alternative facts’

by: - March 7, 2017
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By: Francis Charles

Writing in another online newspaper for Friday March 3rd 2017, the Honourable Member of Parliament for the Roseau South Constituency, Mr. Joshua Francis went out on a limb as it were to echo and re-echo the many charges of corruption in government that has been levelled at the present Dominica Labour Party government. Writing under the title “Identifying the Millions of “Dark Money” that Floods Dominica’s Election and Attempted Murder of the Truth” he referenced the Citizenship by Investment program (CBI), alleged sale of Diplomatic passports and elections financing.

On the issue of the CBI and alleged sale of diplomatic passport he wrote. “And the allegation that the government of Dominica is involved in the sale of diplomatic passport has not been successfully refuted except for our Prime Minister’s public denial and the lame explanations given by weak mouth pieces of the Commonwealth of Dominica, simply, there is no evidence on public record to negative the bold assertion that the government of Dominica has sold diplomatic passports. The onus is on the government of Dominica, as the servant of the people to come clean, provide us with the documents showing that due diligence were conducted on the named international suspects……………………”

Everyone knows that Mr. Francis is a practicing attorney at law involved in representing many clients who have been accused of one crime or another. His job as a defense lawyer is to test the evidence that is mounted against his clients. That is done at a place and in a manner that is established by law. Every action of himself in the defense of his client and the prosecution in making separate cases are governed by law. It is a well-established principle in our system of jurisprudence that the person making the complaint has to prove their cause beyond reasonable doubt. In fact the person who is the subject of the accusation can invoke his/her rights under the law and remain mute.

Since when does the onus of proof in a criminal matter now rest with the person so accused/charged? Under which law, may I ask, that this fundamental principle in law is negated simply because the accused is either the government or the head of government?
We all know that it is the government, more particularly the Prime Minister that is the subject of the accusations of criminal wrongdoing.

But then I remembered not so long ago a very high profile official of the UWI, in a highly emotional public comment on electoral reform debate here, stated quite categorically that he was not interested in what the law said about how to manage the electoral list or electoral reform. Rather, he was more concerned about the moral arguments associated with the debate. Wow! The question must be asked. Whose morality will become the yardstick? Do we want a country that is governed by the moral values of individuals – party or government? Look at our society and consider, in the absence of an established set of principles and governance value systems, just how chaotic a society we would be living in. These principles and systems for the orderly governance of our commonly referred to as rules and regulations, – the constitution, the law, are meant for just that. We cannot change the goal post, which is established for the orderly conduct of our communities at the whims and fancy of anyone.

So I view with great concern the statement made by Mr. Francis that the onus for proving that the CBI program as a criminal enterprise rests with the government. It is the government that has been accused of operating a program that is riddled with corruption and all manner of illegal malfeasance. The government has denied time and time again any criminal wrongdoing. Granted they have accepted that in a few cases, that at the time the due diligence was conducted, there was no known record for the individuals. To that extent, the government has ordered a review of the system. Please note that there are four overseas based, highly credible agencies (one in Europe, 2 in the United states and one in Canada) that have been conducting the due diligence in these maters on behalf of the government. Did Mr. Francis know that he would have been kicked out of the important position of Deputy Leader of his party based solely on what is still an allegation? Did he know that he would have been, in a cold-blood fashion be insulted in a most demeaning way? Can he admit his due diligence conducted on the major parties back in 2014, failed him? Then who is to blame?

You would want to think that with such bold denials on the part of the government that the opposition, on whose side Mr. Francis wrote would by now come swinging with the indisputable evidence that the government lied, is lying and unfit to govern. That has not been forthcoming. To cite two cases. The opposition has for years been advancing the view that a Mr. Francesco Corralo, an Italian citizen and a Mr. Rudolph king, a Bahamian citizen were found with diplomatic passports at the time they were separately and independently apprehended by law enforcement. The government has repeatedly, over many years, denied that any of the gentlemen named above were ever issued with a diplomatic passport. In two other more recent instances the government gave a full official explanation of what happened and action it took following the disclosure that the two (an Iranian and a Nigerian) were subjects of interests to law enforcement. These explanations notwithstanding, the charges of corruption and illegality continue to swirl even in the loud silence of absolutely no evidence beyond the initial political media statement.

What therefore is the evidence that they have to expose the sale of diplomatic passports to international crooks and criminals and the lack of due diligence in the granting of citizenship to foreigners? There are two very important incidents which showcases an empty but vulgar campaign by the opposition in this regard. In one instance the Leader of the Opposition when pressed by a journalist from the Huffington Post for the evidence that the government of Dominica sold a passport to an international gangster, Daou Ibrahim, the Leader of the Opposition admitted to not having any evidence but that he was speaking from an indirect source based on a tip-off. Absolutely, no hard evidence to prove his case. That particular matter is before the court, not involving the Leader of the Opposition though, but the third party he mentioned who leaked the information to him. More recently, Mr. Gabriel Christian, a Dominican attorney in Washington, who unsuccessfully promoted his own brand of economic citizenship program with the Skerrit government, was on TV admitting that they, those who cry out the loudest against the government and the CBI program, do not have any hard evidence but a letter written by some European. Rather they want government to prove them wrong in their assertions by providing the evidence or step aside and allow an interim government to appoint a commission of inquiry. With 11 seats needed to form government, how will that interim be formed and how will it function? The opposition now commands 6 seats in the 21 member legislature. The rule of law is hereby turned head over heels. The onus of proof seemingly has shifted form the accuser to the accused. The not so subtle suggestion therefore is to ignore the law and thus apply the moral values of a select few.

In the immediate aftermath of the February 7th 2017 “D-Day Skerrit Must Go campaign”, the police brought in a number of suspects leaders of the riots which took place in Roseau. Following their release, they all claimed that they did not co-operate with the police. In fact they invoked their rights to remain silent. Let the police, the accuser, prove their case. Provide the evidence they meant. It is their rights. When the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that she was taking action to clear her good name over accusations of fraud, she was chided for not providing the “EVIDENCE” in her first letter of intent. In time when the matter goes to court she has to provide the evidence at her disposal. Why therefore should the table change when the shoe is on the other foot?

On the matter of electoral reform the Hon. Member for Roseau South continued again with his unsubstantiated claim that the government spent in excess of 30 million dollars on the last general elections campaign. Again, more hear say, and unsubstantiated assumptions. He pretended to ignore the information that is presently in the public domain concerning the fund raising strategies of the very party he represents.

There is evidence to point out that the party (the same party which sent him packing from a cherished executive position), as part of its fundraising campaign promised to provide diplomatic passports to “its rich friends and family in Europe”. Please note! These promises were made even whilst in Opposition. The evidence is showing that for the 2005-2009 elections campaign the UWP received millions of dollars based on promises of the grant of diplomatic passports to its donors (rich friends and families in Europe) if they were to win the elections. And so money was raised and funds were clandestinely transferred to various business accounts in Dominica. That information is on the public record for two weeks now. Names, dates, check numbers, check amounts and accounts were all disclosed. You want evidence? Here is evidence. I have not heard Mr. Francis with a public comment on this disclosure expressing concern or denying any such activity. You would have thought that with that kind of evidence staring him in the face, and his own experiences dealing with allegations, both at party and State level, Mr. Francis would have been ill-at-ease, been more cautious in throwing stones as it were at someone else and making such accusations that he and his party has yet to prove where it matters most.