INVEST St Lucia (formerly the National Development Corporation) says neither it nor its personnel should be held responsible for facilitating the setting up of the controversial Lambirds Academy in St Lucia.
In its first detailed statement on the affair which first come to light in February. Invest St Lucia (ISL) said its entire involvement in the process to facilitate Lambirds was above board and at no time was there “any valid and compelling legal reason” that would have refrained it from doing so.
Arguing that the process of lawfully establishing Lambirds Academy (as an institution) was not the issue, ISL said the real issue to be determined was whether the lawfully established Academy was used to carry out an illegal enterprise.
Police shut down the Academy earlier this year after four of its associates were arrested on charges of money laundering and human trafficking. The matter is currently before the courts. The closure of the Academy left stranded, more than 60 Asian students who had come there to study.
The St Lucia government has promised an investigation into the matter, but after more than a month, there has been no sign of any such investigation.
The following is an edited text of the ISL statement:
“Over the last few weeks, Invest Saint Lucia has listened with concern to the plethora of commentary and conjecture pertaining to the Lambirds Academy affair.
Mindful of the potential damage to investor perception of our island, Invest Saint Lucia wishes to release this statement to clarify its role in this rather unfortunate issue.
It is now common knowledge that on Friday March 6th 2015, the police arrested and charged a number of persons connected to Lambirds Academy including one Dr.Iftekhar Ahmed Shams for various human trafficking offences, resulting in the closure of the Academy.
Since then, the public has rightfully taken a keen interest in this matter particularly with regards to the establishment of the Lambirds Academy here in Saint Lucia.
Whilst every citizen has a right to enquire and to be rightfully concerned about this matter, ISL is of the firm view that we must not be too quick to draw invalid inferences and to accept, baseless accusations and false conclusions.
As it stands, the charges against the agents of Lambirds Academy are still allegations, which are to be decided by a jury and it is indeed improper to try this matter in the court of public opinion.
Invest Saint Lucia can thus speak only to matters relating to the facts of the investment process and the truth, which these facts admit.
It can be categorically stated that Invest Saint Lucia did NOT specifically invite Lambirds Academy to Saint Lucia, but Lambirds Academy accepted a general invitation, issued online and in the local, regional and international media, to attend the inaugural Saint Lucia Investment Forum in May 2014.
Further, there was never and has not since, been any attempt by Invest Saint Lucia to hide the facts or obfuscate information related to the matter.
Invest Saint Lucia’s only interest has been to ensure that the established processes for investment facilitation and establishment are followed and indeed, not only have we steadfastly maintained that position but had on several occasions communicated to Iftekhar Shams, principal of the erstwhile Lambirds Academy, the need to abide by the established rules, regulations and laws applicable to the establishment of his business.
“The ensuing facilitation process was thereafter conducted according to law and within the prescribed procedures.
The requisite due diligence protocols, were followed, and returned nothing adverse either in relation to Lambirds Academy, which had already established a presence in the USA, or to its agents.
Invest Saint Lucia’s statutory facilitation duties were adopted with the requisite applications submitted to the various regulatory agencies for consideration and approval.
Invest Saint Lucia, on May 22nd 2014, consistent with its statutory facilitation duties, submitted an application for a Trade Licence on behalf of Lambirds Academy, to the Trade Licence Board for consideration.
When advised by a senior officer of ISL, after communicating with the Ministry of Commerce etc., that the said Board had not met in months and was unlikely to meet in the near future, Invest Saint Lucia, pursuant to section 7 of the Invest Saint Lucia Act Number 14 of 2014, resubmitted the application, on June 2nd 2014, directly to the Minister for her consideration”
ISL said that the Invest St Lucia Act gave the Minister the power to process an application by an investor or to delegate his or her power to process an application under such terms and conditions as the Minister determines and a copy of the application must be forwarded to the relevant Minister and the Prime Minister.
The statement added: “It is worth noting that Lambirds Academy was a lawfully incorporated body under the laws of Saint Lucia, and, as no fault can be laid at the door of the Registry of Companies for incorporating Lambirds Academy, or on the attorney who swore the statutory declaration to facilitate the incorporation, so too, no calumny or opprobrium should be levied at Invest Saint Lucia or its personnel for facilitating the said company.
Indeed, Invest Saint Lucia was not, at the material time, seized with any valid and compelling legal reason to refrain from facilitating Lambirds Academy.
The investment process is designed to allow an investor to legally establish a prima facie legitimate business and is not designed to detect an investor’s criminal intent in the operations of that authorized business.
It is our view therefore that the process of lawfully establishing Lambirds Academy (as an institution) is not the issue. The real issue to be determined is whether the lawfully established Lambirds Academy was used to carry out an illegal enterprise.
If there is indeed such a criminal intent, the machinery of government, through its investigative agencies did detect the alleged criminality and for that we are most thankful. However, in accordance with the Rule of Law, due process should be followed and justice be done even if the heavens fall”.