Lambirds magistrate dismisses money laundering charge!

The magistrate Irwin Moise on Tuesday this week dismissed the widely discussed matter involving several Nepalese and Indian students—at any rate, the charge of money laundering against CEO Iftekhar Ahmed Shams and other operators of Lambirds Academy. There still are several related charges to be dealt with by the court, including fraud, receiving by deception and human trafficking.

It is not altogether clear why the laundering charge was dismissed. According to police sources, the recently amended Criminal Procedure Rules permit magistrates the discretion in appropriate circumstances to discontinue certain matters.

Students from Nepal and India demonstrating outside Government Buildings at the Castries Waterfront against the lack of official attention given their predicament.

Students from Nepal and India demonstrating outside Government Buildings at the Castries Waterfront against the lack of official attention given their predicament.

The more recent version of the rule states: “The court may dismiss any summary matter or matter that can be disposed of summarily if a) the charge has been pending for more that 180 days, and b) the trial has not commenced and the delay is not attributable to the defendant.”

The earlier version of the Criminal Procedure Rules, at Section 7.4: “The court shall dismiss any summary case if the charge has been pending for more than 180 days, the trial has not commenced and the delay is not attributable to the defendant—unless the court concludes that there are exceptional reasons for not dismissing a case and so records.”

Alas, on Tuesday there was no one to speak of any, let alone exceptional, reasons for not dumping the prosecution’s case. We were reliably informed that the state prosecutor, Tina Menisha of the problems-plagued Department of Public Prosecutions, failed to show up for Tuesday’s hearing because it collided with her scheduled appearance at the appeal court.

For his part, defense lawyer Marcus Foster underscored not only the crown prosecutor’s unexplained absence but also her failure to apply to the court for a stay in the proceedings.

Meanwhile there is the matter of the Nepalese translator whom defense lawyers had at an earlier hearing pronounced incompetent. The magistrate expressed a contrary view, which the defense appealed. That particular disagreement, to be settled by a judge, remains pending.

We are unable to confirm at this time a report that the DPP’s representative arrived at Tuesday’s hearing shortly after the dismissal decision was handed down and that she attempted, without success, to persuade the magistrate to reconsider his money laundering decision until the pending translator issue had been determined.

The Lambirds controversy became public in January this year, following complaints by close to a hundred students who claimed they had been lured by false Lambirds advertisements in their native countries. Following police investigations the school, which had occupied the floor over a grocery store in Gros Islet, was shut down by the authorities and its operators taken into police custody. They remain at Bordelais, even at time of writing. Their lawyers this week predicted they would be free at Christmas.

It has emerged that the main operator of Lambirds, an Indian from Bangladesh, had arrived in Saint Lucia in late April 2014 to attend an investment forum organized by Invest Saint Lucia and advertised online. By reliable account, following the Invest Saint Lucia promotion, the Bangladesh businessman had, without question, set up permanent residence here.

With controversial assistance from Invest Saint Lucia and the Commerce Ministry, he had successfully applied for trading licenses in June 2014 to operate various local business ventures, some normally reserved for citizens of Saint Lucia.

A month or so ago, the talk-radio host Claudius Francis (also president of the Saint Lucia Senate) revealed during an episode of his twice-weekly Straight Up what he described as a police conspiracy, that included at least one of the Lambirds investigators, a businessman and opposition politicians, to embarrass the prime minister and two of his Cabinet colleagues by publishing secret information that connected them to the Lambirds controversy.

The radio-host revealed that at the heart of the conspiracy was the desire to “remove the Kenny Anthony government.”

Two days following the broadcast the prime minister confirmed the report. He said he had for some time known the details of “Operation Remove Kenny.” Moreover, he would instruct the acting police commissioner to conduct a related investigation. Since then there has been no further information on the matter from the prime minister’s office. As they say: not a word, not a word, not a word.

By reliable account the acting police commissioner all but dismissed the publicized allegations during a leaked private conversation with fellow officers during which the acting commissioner revealed certain police lives were under threat by fellow officers.

At a press conference on Thursday, however, the acting commissioner told reporters he had no authority to investigate certain ranks; that that was the purview of the Public Service Commission.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reliably informed that the U.S. State Department—already less than thrilled about the Saint Lucia government’s handling of “gross human rights violations” allegedly committed by an ad hoc police task force—has been taking more than normal interest in the operation of Saint Lucia’s justice system, in particular the handling of the Lambirds matter. So are the British.

Our sources claim the U.S. government has expressed great concern about how easily students from India and Nepal acquired the Saint Lucian visas and other travel documents that had facilitated their unquestioned entry here, to say nothing of the quality of due diligence undertaken by local government departments.

We were told U.S. and UK authorities are particularly interested in the human trafficking and laundering elements of the Lambirds case.

Last week the prime minister convened two private meetings with local police officers in the north and south of the island. The stated purpose was “to address the implications of the imposition of the Leahy Law on Saint Lucia by the United States, and matters relating to the IMPACS Report.”

In short, the prime minister acknowledged before the gatherings that his government was broke—a situation that has been greatly exacerbated by the refusal of the United States, the UK and Canada to resume their financial and other assistance to the local police. He said he was considering whether to quit contributing financially to the Regional Security Service, since Saint Lucian officers were barred from participating in their largely U.S.-funded activities. The prime minister also took the opportunity to blame yet again the DPP’s office for the delay in processing the six-months-old IMPACS report.

At time of writing a date has not been set for the next Lambirds hearing. Meanwhile, from the offices of the DPP and the home affairs minister, not a word, not a word, not a word. Then there is the film crew, sponsored by a human rights group based in the U.S., that has been documenting the Lambirds episode almost from the start. The group has several public showings scheduled, including some in Miami and Cannes.

During shooting, the film makers were several times denied opportunities to interview government officials!

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