Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has declared that somebody and not Saint Lucia, benefitted from the appointment of Saudi billionaire, Walid Juffali, as this country’s representative to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Chastanet declared that citizenship and diplomatic passports are two separate and unique issues.
“They are not mutually inclusive,” he explained.
He recalled that in opposition he wrote a letter regarding the appointment of Doctor Ernest Hilaire as Chairman of the Citizenship By Investment Programme (CIP).
“So when you had a situation in which you had an individual who is actually involved in a very controversial appointment of a Saudi Arabian businessman as an ambassador, in which there are actually more questions than answers, and then you turn around and you place that person as Chairman of the CIP, what we’re saying is that you’re looking for trouble,” the PM asserted.
He made reference to an Al Jazera report recently which indicated that Caribbean Islands are willing to accept money in return for diplomatic passports.
Chastanet said that in Saint Lucia’s case, which is all he can speak to, Doctor Ernest Hilaire when he was High Commissioner in the UK lobbied his government for Juffali to be this country’s Permanent Representative at the IMO, in order to introduce a ship registration system here.
He recalled that the then labour administration agreed to Hilaire’s request and in December 2013, the Saudi national was appointed.
Chastanet said that two months later, Hilaire recommended that Juffali be appointed as the Deputy Permanent representative.
“We know that three weeks later that request changed to him resigning from the IMO position and allowing Mr. Juffali to become the permanent representative. We also know that in January of 2015, Mr. Juffali’s lawyers made several inquiries into the immunity that his position had.”
According to the PM, in May 2015, Juffali’s lawyers wanted to be assured by the then Saint Lucia government that if a request was made for his immunity to be withdrawn, the then administration would not do so.
He recalled that lawyers for Juffali’s ex-wife made a request in June 2015 for the government here to strip the Saudi national of his diplomatic immunity, but received no response.
Chastanet said another request was made in August and the government here indicated that it had no intention of doing so.
Chastanet said in December 2015 the UK Foreign Office requested that Juffali’s immunity be withdrawn, but the government did not do so.
The UK media quoted a High Court Judge as saying in 2016 that the billionaire secured a diplomatic posting with Saint Lucia so he could avoid a multi-million pound divorce suit brought by his super-model ex-wife.
It was reported that Juffali, who died in July 2016, had argued that his status as St Lucia’s representative on the IMO meant he had “general immunity” from being sued in the British courts.
“So I can say without any fear of conflict that the appointment of Doctor Juffali was always about immunity – it wasn’t about economic development; it wasn’t about a lab or anything else – it was about immunity,” Prime Minister Chastanet told reporters.
He asserted that Saint Lucia did not benefit in any way.
“So is it reasonable for us to ask the question after particularly seeing the Al Jazeera story: ‘Who benefitted?’”
Chastanet said he wanted to hear from the people who benefitted.
He urged them to come clean with the people of Saint Lucia as to how much they received.
“There’s no question in my mind that somebody benefitted and for sure, it wasn’t the state,” the PM told reporters.