By:SKN Labour Party
On Friday 11th May, transcripts produced in a high court in London in connection with a bribery investigation concerning billionaire businessman Peter Virdee and his business partner Dieter Trutschler appear to disclose reasonable grounds to believe that bribes and expensive gifts were given to Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis Dr. Timothy Harris as well as other Caribbean politicians. The transcripts appeared subject to the court hearing and were produced from recordings made by German police after they suspected Virdee of being involved in tax fraud. The German tapes were handed over to the National Crime Agency (NCA) in the UK who began their own criminal investigation and eventually had the transcripts produced in court.
The transcripts produced in the court were of intercepted phone calls between Peter Virdee and his business partner Dieter Trutschler made on 7th February, 12th March, 12th July, 5th August, 11th August and 9th November, 2016. These conversation began about exactly 12 months after Harris became Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis.
According to the judgment of the court in London, the German authorities had intercepted telephone calls which caused them to suspect that Mr Virdee and his business partner might be involved in bribery and/or corruption in relation to their investment activities in the Caribbean including in St. Kitts and Nevis. High Court Judge Lord Justice Holroyde wrote in his judgment that “There is no doubt that the transcripts include a number of references to the topic of payments or gifts to government officials.”
Lord Justice Holroyde also declared that there was ‘no reason to doubt the accuracy of the intelligence’ and that ‘there are reasonable grounds to believe that a bribe has been paid and this raises an obligation to investigate what may be serious offences under the Bribery Act 2010, as well as associated money laundering offences under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. ‘
In grounding his decision to uphold the actions of the National Crime Agency in London, Lord Justice Holroyde wrote, ‘I am not aware of any legitimate system in Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts [and Nevis ] or St Lucia whereby a fee may be paid to a Government Department or Cabinet Member for the award of a contract.’ He further agreed that ‘the transcripts provided an ample basis for believing that offences contrary to the Bribery Act had been committed.’
According to the judgment of the court, the National Crime Agency in the UK alleges in its case that the intercepted conversations legally obtained by the German police implicated the Mr. Virdee and his partner in ‘conspiring to bribe corrupt officials; indicated that they had discussed bribes demanded by and paid to the Antiguan Minister for Development and the Prime Minister of St Kitts; and included a recording of a conversation between the claimants [ Mr. Virdee and his partner] and the Antiguan Minister negotiating the amount of money due to the Minister personally for introducing Mr Virdee to officials of St Lucia and St Kitts. ‘
According to the transcripts before the court, in a conversation on 12th March, 2016, Mr Virdee told Mr Trutschler, his business partner, that the Prime Minister of St Kitts, Timothy Harris, was visiting [London] , and said of Prime Minister Harris…
“I am taking him and his entourage out for dinner this evening and then we have an after party, so be ready for a big bill, but in the interim he said he would like a nice watch. I said ‘okay.’ And then he called me this morning and he said ‘Have you got my watch?’, I said ‘Oh I have got to pick your watch up’. So that is that. I spoke to him last Saturday, last Sunday at the airport hotel when he was in transit to Dubai and he said ‘Look, I am in favour of this, I will send my minister down’, I said ‘But you telling me you are in favour of it, it doesn’t help me, it really doesn’t help me in what you are telling me because, you know, I need action behind the words, and at the moment I am not seeing any of that.’ And I had a very stiff conversation with him, to the point I said ‘Listen, you have got another 3, 3 and a half years. In 2 years’ time you are going to start your election campaign, you are going to come to me and say ‘Peter Virdee, I need some election funding’ and I am going to say ‘PM I can’t help you, if I have not earned anything from this country’ and then you are going to get upset and then we are going to fall out, so it is your call, how do you want to do this. Look, I have someone in the car … between me and you, I don’t want to talk too much on the phone, I am going to have a very frank conversation with him, I mean as frank as I can get, and today’s conversation is going to be ‘Yes we are going to be in St Kitts’ or ‘No, we are not going to be in that region’, simple, because I have not got time to go and entertain and go and meet him at airports and take him out for lunches and take eight of them out for dinner, and buy him a watch and buy him this and buy him shoes. I haven’t got time for that. Now I don’t mind nurturing a relationship, the guy is in power today, and if he ain’t going to do nothing for me whilst he is in power, he is not going to do fuck all for me when he is out of power.”
Mr Virdee went on to tell his business partner Mr Trutschler in that same telephone conversation that he was on his way to Selfridge’s to look for a watch:
“I had my guy out looking yesterday but they are just out of the budget I want to spend on him. I don’t really want to be spending more than like 2,000 pound on him, on a watch.”
In wrapping up his judgment, Lord Justice Holroyde concluded, ‘We emphasise that the claimants deny any wrongdoing, and that nothing we say in this judgment is a final adjudication on the precise meaning of the transcripts.’
However, Lord Justice Holroyde was equally careful to state as follows, ‘Without going into particulars, and putting the matter at its very lowest, we have no doubt that a judge considering the passages we have quoted would regard them as capable of giving rise to a reasonable inference that the claimants were willing in principle to make corrupt gifts and to pay bribes, but felt that the Caribbean politicians with whom they were dealing were asking for too much.’