Featured in our center pages is a burgeoning controversy that has attracted interest not only in the Bahamas but also throughout the United States, although (surprise! surprise!) not in Saint Lucia—at any rate until now. The issue includes a multi-billionaire named Peter Nygard, the Bahamas government (reminiscent of Jack Grynberg!), the Bahamas seabed and a judge. For details, please check our reproduction of two items originally published in the prestigious U.S. publication Vanity Fair.
My concern here is for our already broken justice system, the officially encouraged pressures on our jurists and the officially demonstrated lack of respect for the judiciary. Recently Chief Justice Dame Pereira not so subtly spoke of political interference with the dispensing of justice in the region, perhaps inadvertently confirming popular suspicions.
Then there is my particular concern for Justice Indra Charles of the Bahamas Supreme Court, an old friend, certainly no stranger to Saint Lucians older than 25 years. She had presided over the famous 2002 case of Martinus Francois versus the Attorney General that centered on whether our constitution empowered finance ministers to guarantee loans for private entities without the prior authority of parliament.
It certainly was no surprise that the current chairman of the opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party, also host of Straight Up, considered Justice Charles’ latest brouhaha with incumbent politicians worthy of his special attention this week. (More than once he reminded his audience that he was reading on-air from an online publication—which brought to mind Timothy Poleon’s pre-election reading during a Newsspin episode of an online item referencing the revocation of Richard Frederick’s U.S. visa—and the continuing consequences suffered by Poleon.)
According to the cited Bahamas report, Justice Charles “is the subject of a committee of parliament which is examining a recent ruling given by her on the privileges of Members and the use of private emails in parliamentary debate . . .” The article claims that when a certain website is opened to the question of whether CARICOM is being used by the Bahamas government in an investigation of Justice Charles, a picture appears of Keod Smith, described as a barrister representing property owner Peter Nygard in a dispute with the government’s Save The Bays project. Moreover that Smith “along with a senior officer of the Bahamas police force were observed by the Saint Lucia authorities conducting a series of interviews and interrogations at government offices in the capital and around the island on the character of a former judge of Saint Lucia, Indra Charles who is now a judge in the Bahamas.”
The published story alleges “some very disturbing questions have been put to citizens of Saint Lucia and Mr. Smith is recorded in conversations where he described himself as a lawyer for Peter Nygard, who recently demonstrated an interest in a stem cell hospice on the islands of Saint Lucia and St. Kitts. A formal statement is being made to the Saint Lucia government to enquire into the role it may be playing in this investigation. The Saint Lucian authorities have identified the two Bahamians who visited Saint Lucia and various officials to supply them with information of a private nature on Mrs. Charles.”
Does anything about the above suggest blackmail, coercion, intimidation and an attempt to interfere with the course of justice? The online publication goes on to question “why the Bahamas government seems to be aligned with Nygard in this case with STB, which represents the property rights of the Bahamian people to their seabed. Why are members of government showing so much interest in this case? Do they also have something to hide?” The article also claims “members of the Saint Lucia Bar Association are asking questions about an investigation” and that a note “was intercepted” which reflects several concerns. The publication, like the host of Straight Up, advised that Prime Minister Allen Chastanet “must speak to and avoid the appearance of our [sic?] island’s participation in this clearly unsavory and unconstitutional encroachment on the judiciary of Saint Lucia and the Bahamas.”
I queried several government officials, including the prime minister, about the online publication. I also spoke to one member of the Bar Association. They were unaware of the Bahamas controversy and strongly denied published assertions the government of Saint Lucia was in any way involved. My attempts at contacting Justice Charles proved futile. I did not contact opposition sources, having already heard from the host of Straight Up.