Leader of the Opposition Allen Chastanet says the alleged withdrawal of the Customs & Excise case against former Saint Lucia High Commissioner Ernest Hilaire has raised even more questions than answers, such as whether Hilaire used Saint Lucia’s UK office to evade taxes on a Land Rover Sport in 2015.
According to Chastanet, upon arrival in Saint Lucia the vehicle was listed as a state asset yet was released to Hilaire on pre-delivery pending further documentation.
“Hilaire was given several occasions to produce the documentation to Customs and his refusal finally resulted in charges being brought against him,” Chastanet said.
He further said that the latest reported developments of the case being withdrawn by Customs with no explanation suggests contempt for the public’s right to know.
“Additionally, Ernest Hilaire is currently the nation’s Minister for Tourism, Investment, Creative Industries, Culture and Information and in charge of the country’s Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) – positions that require the highest levels of integrity, ethics and trust,” Chastanet said.
He said the lack of transparency with regard to the vehicle, brings into question the quality of persons holding such positions within the Government and the public concern. Also whether Hilaire abused his office. These concerns Chastanet said, have not been laid to rest.
“Resolving this case in a manner that is transparent and certain is important to public trust. This case has never been arbitrated because the Comptroller of Customs chose to withdraw the case and now both Hilaire and the Comptroller of Customs owe it to the public to explain why,” Chastanet said.
Chastanet also reminded that the case started due to an official letter to Customs from the Director of Finance in 2017, which according to records from the United Kingdom belonged to the state. The Customs Comptroller also owes an explanation to the Ministry of Finance.
“Has Hilaire finally perfected his entry to Customs?” asked Chastanet. “Has the Customs department received the documents requested which were a Supplier’s Commercial invoice for sale of the vehicle, Proof of payment to the supplier, the Diplomatic Sales Vehicle Quote, Vehicle registration documents from the driver and vehicle licensing agency in London and The application to purchase a British Car at a tax-exclusive Price? The public needs to know the answers to these and more questions.”
The former Prime Minister stated that until these questions are answered, there will continue to be a cloud of mistrust surrounding Investment Minister Ernest Hilaire and the entire Government, in particular the Minister for Finance.
Among the other questions to be answered Chastanet said were:
● Who is legally the owner of the Land Rover Sport in question?
● Why was the vehicle purchased in the name of the High Commission and not in the name of Hiliare?
● Why didn’t Hiliare purchase the vehicle in his name as is the case for all private citizens?
● Did Hiliare enjoy any financial benefit from the fact that the vehicle was purchased in the name of the high commission as opposed to him in his private capacity?
● Did Hiliare or his agent/representative commit an offence contrary to section 2 the UK Fraud Act?
● Did Hiliare benefit from Vat exemption for 2 vehicles when he was only entitled to benefit from Vat exemption in relation to 1 vehicle?
● Who advised that the vehicle be purchased by and in the name of the High Commission?
● Why wasn’t the Director of Finance informed of the purchase of the vehicle in the name of the High Commission or its disposal contrary to the Finance (Administration) Act?
● Should customs be looking at other charges regarding the vehicle if the issue of ownership cannot be settled?
● If a vehicle is paid for by one person but bought in the name of another, who does the vehicle legally belong to?