Fellow citizens and residents
I address you this evening in my formal capacity as Leader of the Opposition in St. Kittsand Nevis and on behalf of the elected majority in the Parliament of St. Kitts and Nevis.My heart is heavy as I do so for yet again our Nation has been brought into odium and disrepute.
You will recall that on the 27th day of November, 2013 I made a national address dealing with the then Media reports that an Iranian businessman was questioned by Canadian border agents whilst holding a diplomatic passport issued by the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis. The media reports revealed some alarming information:
1. The Iranian national stated that he paid US$1 million for the diplomatic passport of this country.
2. The Iranian national could not otherwise have entered Canada visa free were it not for a St. Kitts Nevis passport.
3. The Iranian national claimed to Canadian border agents that he was entering Canada for meetings with the Canadian Prime Minister on behalf of the Government and people of St. Kitts Nevis.
4. The claims by the Iranian national of a meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister were categorically false.
This occurrence in Canada led to immediate concerns there as to the safety and security of that country’s borders. As a consequence, the Media reports confirmed that the Canadian authorities made urgent representations to the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis raising serious concerns about not just this but other incidents involving St. Kitts Nevis passport holders entering or seeking to enter Canada using the visa free status currently granted by that country to nationals of St. Kitts and Nevis.
On or about the 26th day of November, 2013 the Honourable Patrice Nisbett, in his capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs was compelled under increasing pressure to make a statement to the National Parliament addressing this issue.
Mr Nisbett identified the Iranian gentleman and confirmed that this Iranian national had been granted diplomatic status by the Cabinet of St. Kitts and Nevis led by Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas. Minister Nisbett also confirmed that the Iranian national was made a special envoy for St. Kitts and Nevis to Turkey and Azerbaijan. What was then proclaimed by some to be fiction was now confirmed as fact.
Of particular note is that during that statement to the Nation, Minister Nisbett as Minister of Foreign Affairs assured us all that the visa free access to Canada which our citizens had always enjoyed was not under threat.
We are all aware that on or about July 30th, 2013, Prime Minister Douglas suddenly declared that nationals of Iran and Afghanistan would no longer be permitted to apply for St. Kitts Nevis citizenship through the citizenship by investment programme. At the time, the Prime Minister said nothing more than his government was reorganizing the programme. Not a word was uttered to the Nation that this action was prompted by the direct intervention of Canadian authorities and the threat that this Iranian national inpossession of a St. Kitts Nevis diplomatic passport could jeopardize the visa free access to Canada currently enjoyed by Kittitians and Nevisians.
I stated in my address nearly 1 year ago that “I believe based on what I have seen that our visa free travel to Canada enjoyed by our citizens has been seriously jeopardized by this international scandal. Indeed Minister Nisbett in his own words in documents seen by me urged his Cabinet colleagues to act citing “the sensitivity of this matter and particularly the possible implications for the continuation of the visa free status which the Federation enjoys with Canada”.
As I address you today, the Nation is still unaware whether this Iranian continues to enjoy not just St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship but our diplomatic status as well.
Our Prime Minister has steadfastly refused to provide any information to our people as to the numbers of passports issued or the countries from whence applicants are being drawn. The economic citizenship programme has suddenly emerged as the biggest business in St. Kitts with well-known friends and associates of the ruling regime enjoying the lion’s share of that business. Millions of dollars are being generated for a select few but I ask at what cost to our national pride and dignity?
This scandal involving an Iranian having diplomatic status of our Nation showing up in Canada was quickly followed by an Advisory from the United States Government issued on 20th May, 2014 wherein the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network warned the world that the St. Kitts Nevis citizenship by investment programme was being abused by foreign nationals who wished to engage in illicit financial activity. The US Advisory stated specifically:
“While many countries offer programs similar to the SKN Citizenship-by-Investment program, the SKN program is attractive to illicit actors because the program, as administered, maintains lax controls as to who may be grantedcitizenship. While the SKN government has publicly pledged to improve these controls, FinCEN believes that they remain ineffective. For example, in 2013 the SKN government announced that all Iranian nationals were suspended from participating in the SKN Citizenship-by-Investment program. Despite this public assurance, FinCEN believes that Iranian nationals continue to obtain passports issued through the program. As a result of these lax controls, illicit actors, including individuals intending to use the secondary citizenship to evade sanctions, can obtain an SKN passport with relative ease.”
The warnings therefore were clear. It was obvious that the security features of our CBI programme were causing great concern within the borders of friendly Nations.
Fellow Kittitians and Nevisians, it is an oft stated truism that every action has consequences. Well in a release from Canadian Immigration authorities yesterday, the entire Nation of St. Kitts and Nevis will now feel the consequences.
The Government of Canada has now declared that effective yesterday 22nd November, 2014 every holder of a St. Kitts and Nevis passport will now have to obtain a visa to visit Canada. That visa we are told will have to be applied for through the Canadian Embassy in Trinidad. In other words my fellow citizens, the long years of privilege that our people enjoyed in visiting friends and relatives in Canada without a visa are now over.
Media reports and in particular an article by one Giuseppe Valiante published just yesterday states this:
“The Canadian government has imposed visa requirements on citizens of the Caribbean island of St. Kitts-Nevis due to national security concerns, QMI Agency has learned.
A Canadian government source said authorities have evidence that people with ties to terrorist organizations and organized crime are using the easily obtained St. Kitts passport to avoid immigration screening.
Canadian authorities are concerned that people who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible to enter Canada for security reasons could change their names and sneak into Canada using St. Kitts passports.
St. Kitts passport applicants can easily change their name, the source said, and the passport doesn’t require prior names to be included in the document.
The source said the majority of St. Kitts passport buyers are from Syria and Iran and that “questionable individuals” have received St. Kitts passports”.
My fellow citizens the chickens have now come home to roost. This unprecedented step taken by the Canadian Government tells us all that they are unhappy with the security measures in place in St. Kitts and Nevis in relation to our citizenship by investment programme. The problem now though is that you and I will pay a price for thoseundesirables whom the Denzil Douglas led Administration has allowed to access our passports. For me and for the elected majority in our Parliament this is a price too high. Our entire citizenship by investment programme is now under enhanced scrutiny and we cannot be surprised if other friendly countries like the United Kingdom and countries in Western Europe follow suit. It must be clear to all that without visa free access to friendly Western countries the St. Kitts Nevis passport loses its value to foreign investors under the citizenship by investment programme.
I wish to convey publicly to the Government and people of the great Nation of Canada that we in St. Kitts and Nevis cherish the close bonds of friendship that have always united our two peoples. We will work tirelessly with Canada and other friends and allies to ensure that we take every step to protect the historic bonds of friendship and cooperation that we have always enjoyed. The parliamentary majority and next Government of this young Nation pledges immediately upon taking office in the next several weeks to sit urgently with the Canadian Government to undertake a wholesale review of all security features of our citizenship by investment programme. We would wish to ensure that our programme poses no risks whatsoever to the Government andpeople of Canada or to any other Nation in the world. The legitimacy and security of the St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship by investment programme has to be protected and preserved. The alternative would be problems not just for the CBI programme and the dramatic negative impact it can have on the St. Kitts Nevis economy but also severe problems for the born and bred citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis.
I wish to assure the Government and people of Canada as I did a year earlier that they have no better friends in the region than the people of St. Kitts and Nevis. To this end, I shall on Monday send formal communication to the Canadian Government assuring them of our commitment to amicably resolve with them any concerns about the safety and security of our CBI programme.
My fellow Nationals this is not a time for finger pointing. We can ill afford to fiddle melodiously whilst Basseterre and Charlestown burn. But I end this address by asking rhetorically: Was the receipt of US$1 million for a diplomatic passport by an Iranian worth this mighty blow to our Nation’s economy, to our Nation’s pride and dignity and to the proud people of St. Kitts and Nevis?
My fellow citizens I ask you to ponder on these things and recognize that the consequences of bad decisions actuated by greed and corruption are felt not just by those who make those decisions but by you and your families.
We are truly at a cross roads and I invite each and every one of you to join the cause that is right, true and just. Join us in restoring decency to our country. Join us so that we can speak in one voice to Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and friendly Nations throughout the world that we the people of St. Kitts and Nevis are and will forever be trusted international partners in preserving safety, security and our cherished democratic ideals.
May God bless you and may He continue to bless our Nation of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Hon. Mark Brantley
Leader of the Opposition