The ongoing saga between Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and Castries South parliamentarian Ernest Hilaire over the latter’s importation of a vehicle at the end of his tenure as Saint Lucia’s High Commissioner in London took yet another turn this week.
The dispute, which is the basis of an action in court, is being keenly watched and debated by Saint Lucians, more so when this week a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister raised added questions regarding the importation.
Hilaire has responded saying the statement from the prime minister’s office constituted a defamation against him which he will take to the courts. The statement emanating from the prime minister’s office noted that when matters involving the vehicle were discovered, they unsurprisingly raised serious concerns and the Government demanded an explanation.
“On the face of it, documents that had been prepared and submitted to the UK authorities by Dr. Hilaire stated unequivocally that the Discovery Sport was bought by the High Commission and belonged to the Government of Saint Lucia. Those documents naturally begged the question why, then, was the vehicle registered in Saint Lucia in Dr. Hilaire’s name and being used by Dr. Hilaire? Dr. Hilaire now says that he, and not the High Commission, bought and paid for the Discovery Sport and that it always belonged to him, not the High Commission,” noted the statement from the prime minister’s office in part.
According to the statement “it is the solemn duty and responsibility of every Government to uphold the rule of law and to ensure that those entrusted with the discharge of the duties of a public office are held accountable for any malfeasance, wrongdoing or breaches of the public trust. Under the previous administration, Dr. Ernest Hilaire held office as Saint Lucia’s High Commissioner to England until October 2015. As such, he was one of Saint Lucia’s most senior diplomats and was the face of the people of Saint Lucia on the international stage. “
The statement further noted that If Hilaire’s assertion is true, then it raises additional serious concerns that demand further explanation.
“Based on the answers and explanations to these questions, one then needs to ask whether Dr. Hilaire gave perjured testimony in an affidavit that he filed in Court on September 3, 2018 that the Discovery Sport was purchased in the name of Tafawa Williams,” the statement read in part.
It further stated, “In the absence of any credible explanation, the only reasonable inference to be drawn from these facts is that Dr. Hilaire’s actions were intended to, and did in fact, fraudulently and unlawfully secure for him personally the benefit of a substantial tax exemption to which he was not otherwise entitled and, in doing so, to perpetrate a fraud against the Government of the United Kingdom. He did so while holding office as High Commissioner and in the name of the High Commission for Saint Lucia. He has, once again, tarnished the reputation and dignity of the people of Saint Lucia by his selfish and dishonest conduct and has brought the country’s good name into disrepute.”
Hilaire at a press conference Thursday issued a statement in response to the one from the Office of the Prime Minister stating, “I am advised that the official statement of September 2, 2020, from the Prime Minister’s Office constitutes a further defamation against me. Accordingly, I have instructed my Attorneys to take further legal action on my behalf to the fullest extent of the law to protect my reputation and constitutional rights. In this regard, I will say very little directly about the contents of the Office of the Prime Minister’s Statement, lest I be held in contempt of Court. I am also limited in what documents that I can share with you at this time.”
He added, “Though I have previously responded in detail to the various attacks by the Prime Minister and his surrogates in their five-year campaign against me, some facts are worth repeating.
“Firstly, they claimed that I had stolen a state asset. Secondly, that I had bought the vehicle with monies given to me by Juffali. So I then provided my bank statements to the media and the Court proving beyond any doubt that I had paid for my vehicle with my personal funds. Then there was a third spin. Nancy Charles questioned my ability to purchase two vehicles and suggested I was involved in money laundering. That claim was also stated in an untested affidavit filed by Allen Chastanet. I provided evidence that my brother had paid for his vehicle via a loan from a local credit union. A loan he continues to service. Now there is a fourth spin. Not that the vehicle does not belong to me, not that it is stolen but that I had defrauded the UK Government! Not the Saint Lucian Government but the UK Government by not paying VAT. How much is the VAT? £5,351.23! So this latest attack is I did not pay VAT, not to the Saint Lucia Government but to the UK Government in the amount of £5,351.23.
“I maintain, as I always have, that I committed no infractions or breaches nor were my actions even unusual. Unlike the Prime Minister, I observed all the relevant laws and legal provisions and was in contravention of none in the purchase and importation of the vehicles.”