Federick Versus Government: Judge Delivers Shock Verdict!

Then Housing Minister Richard Frederick with his guardian Angel outside the Gros Islet police station, following hours of interrogation in relation to alleged under-invoicing of imported cars. The year was 2007!

Despite that there had been countless allegations of the nastiest kind leveled at him by officials of the Kenny Anthony government in the months leading up to the 2006 general elections, news of Richard Frederick’s arrest on the morning of June 18, 2007 shook the nation to its core. As controversial a figure as he had been during the previous four years or so, despite being declared “the most frightening prospect” facing politics in Saint Lucia by Labour Party leader and prime minister Kenny Anthony, Frederick had nevertheless emerged the star of the general elections, having stopped dead in their tracks an over-confident sitting attorney general (Philip La Corbiniere) and after him Vaughan Lewis, a former prime minister. The 2006 general elections were preceded by a contest for the all-important Castries Central seat, previously held – as now! – by Sarah Flood-Beaubrun.

The arrest itself had been nearly as dramatic as the televised arrest of O.J. Simpson: an unmarked police transport had blocked Frederick’s parked vehicle and arrested him as he disembarked near S&S, with scores of mid-morning shoppers, bemused street vendors and suspicious layabouts looking on in amazement. Meanwhile excited TV reporters had materialized at the scene as if magically. Even the lead arresting officer featured his own unusual markings: he was one of eight retired Caucasian police officers imported by the Kenny Anthony government three years or so before the elections.

More media personnel awaited Frederick’s arrival at the Gros Islet police station, where the MP would be interrogated for several hours before he was permitted to return to his ministry. Outside the station he was mobbed by placard-bearing, chanting admirers. There would be more interrogations in the weeks ahead, all afforded full press coverage. High-end vehicles were removed from the minister’s home and taken into police custody. No charges were ever laid. On Frederick’s own application in 2009, a magistrate later ordered the return of the vehicles—having deprived their respective owners of their use for some 856 days. But that was hardly the end of the matter, as we shall see.

But let us return to the beginning—long before Frederick’s controversial arrest. (In his circumstances he could’ve been required to visit the police station at his convenience. Or he could’ve received his interrogators at his ministry, without tipping off the press. After all, it wasn’t as if the police were ready to charge him with an offence.In all events, this newspaper was first to report in May 2007 that government of Saint Lucia officials had sought overseas assistance in obtaining information about “three Miami-based car dealerships and two exporters for use in a criminal investigation.” I had also been reliably informed of the identities of the “targets of the investigation”:  the brothers Richard and Lucas Frederick, and Joseph Auguste.

More pointedly, the application for judicial assistance from the United States explained: “The Customs and Excise Department is investigating Richard Frederick and others with respect to fraudulent evasion of customs duties related to the importation of motor vehicles. In furtherance of their criminal proceedings, the law enforcement authorities are requesting certified business records from car dealerships and freight companies in Miami, Florida. The amount of tax believed to have been evaded is at least US$30,281.”

The day following publication of the above, Frederick said during a related Radio 100 interview: “I don’t understand. If they feel I have submitted wrong invoices, then hold my vehicles. Do what you have to do. I really don’t think . . . [the lawyer in his soul may have been cautioning him not to say anything that could later be used against him] but it may be so, that it was the customs department that started this investigation because the assistance request was sent by the attorney general’s office. . .” Again a cautionary pause. “Can you imagine . . . had my party not won the elections, who knows what documents might have been fabricated to ensure a penalty was imposed on me for something I would not have known about?”

Asked by his interviewer what he planned to do about the obviously embarrassing situation, Frederick replied: “What I am hoping is that they [the U.S. authorities] will respond to the current attorney general about their findings. I have nothing to hide.” In all events, he added, the treatment given his case was most unusual. He had represented several importers suspected by customs of under-invoicing but none were treated as he had been. 

He smelled a rat: “I don’t subscribe to wrong-doing. I have found myself in politics and obviously I rocked some boats. If being a minister of government means one has to be wicked and vindictive, then I might as well get out. I came into politics to represent people, to make their lives better, not to penalize them for no good reason.”

When soon afterward I gave the former attorney general the opportunity to tackle how Frederick had reacted to his office’s application for judicial assistance under the Mutual Legal Assistance In Criminal Matters Treaty between the U.S. and Saint Lucia, this was what Philip La Corbiniere said: “I can deny categorically that at no time were the offices of the prime minister and the attorney general used to victimize Mr. Frederick. The statements by Mr. Frederick in that regard are misleading, false and have no basis in fact.”

Additionally: “The United States of America and Saint Lucia would be duty-bound to refuse any request that appears to be politically motivated. Mr. Frederick has indicated he intends to communicate with the new attorney general concerning this matter. In the context of any investigation this would be inappropriate.”

In the interim lawyers representing Frederick filed a constitutional motion for unlawful arrest and detention, and for unlawful detention of his vehicles. Last month Justice Smith ruled that there was no evidence on which an arrest could’ve been based. He also held that the detention of Frederick’s vehicles was unlawful. Meanwhile, Frederick’s lawyers have filed submissions for damages.             

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