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Former Foreign Affairs Minister Oliver Joseph has admitted that the previous New National Party (NNP) administration had a policy of accepting cash for diplomatic passports. However, there have been denials that a Polish man was charged almost double the usual amount and a significant portion of that went to the bank account of an NNP constituency office.
Joseph confirmed that there was a policy of the former administration, led by Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, of appointing diplomatic passport holders as ambassadors-at-large if there was no representation in the territory or jurisdiction from which an application for citizenship came. No diplomatic immunity was granted, however, he said.
Unlike an ambassador-in-residence, who is usually limited to a country or embassy, an ambassador-at-large operates in several neighbouring countries.
“What we [did] is conduct a thorough due diligence investigation and once approved they are then asked to pay the required funds to the state. The fee was US$150,000, nothing more, and the Cabinet conclusions will reflect the same,” Joseph said.
During a town hall meeting on Monday, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell alleged that a Polish national had claimed that in June this year, in the midst of the general election campaign, he was asked to pay US$290,000 for a diplomatic passport, with US$150,000 for the State and US$140,000 for the NNP’s constituency office in St George South.
“We have the records…. The Cabinet conclusion said that it was US$290,000 to the State of Grenada. The last time I checked, the constitution does not establish the New National Party South St George office as part of the State of Grenada, so my free advice now is that the New National Party South St George office, or the New National Party for that matter, should kindly hand over to the state of Grenada the US$140,000 that magically found its way into your bank account,” he said at the town hall meeting at the Grenada Trade Centre.
Describing the move by the Polish nation as a gamble in which he lost, the Prime Minister said his government will not grant the request for the money to be returned.
“I do not know who advised the Polish gentleman…. The gentleman has been asking back for his money. The State of Grenada has no intention of paying back any money to anybody, but I also want to point out and give some free advice to the South St George New National Party that you might have to pay back the man his money,” he said.
“This is essentially trading in diplomacy or, more specifically, trading in a diplomatic passport. This administration has put a stop to this, we will not do it, it is wrong. For a government, days before an election to be suggesting to people that they could be made diplomats in the middle of an election campaign ridiculous and that is the kind of challenge that we have to treat with,” Prime Minister Mitchell declared.
However, Joseph insisted that the amount paid to the state was only US$150,000 and there can be no other figures in the Cabinet conclusion.
“That is the figure we set and we did not change it in the build-up to the election, so I challenge those with other evidence to present it,” he said.
Norland Cox who contested the South St George Constituency seat for the June 23 general election, also distanced himself from the payment.
“I can clearly state that my campaign, our campaign [in] which we were unsuccessful, in no way will our records show that we have received any direct funding from any foreign donor. All our support was from ordinary persons, local businesses and even former parliamentary representatives for South St George who supported our campaign,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.
“So that is the fact, and I want to repeat again that my campaign and my staff, we have not received or been in contact with any individual…. We have not been in any contact with anybody via email, phone call, anything of that sought for any financial support to my campaign,” Cox insisted.
Nicholas Steele, a former candidate for the NNP in the same constituency, also said he did not receive US$140,000 for his campaign, although he did confirm that during his 2018 election bid, there were financial contributions that required him and his office to declare the source of funds.
Grenada’s financial laws mandate that financial transactions of EC$10,000 and up deposited into an account must have a source of funds declaration.