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Antigua & Barbuda - Corruption

The Bird family has dominated political life in Antigua and Barbuda since Vere Bird Sr. led a campaign for higher wages for sugar cane cutters 50 years ago. But allegations of scandal have dogged the family. Vere Bird Jr. was accused of shipping Israeli arms to Colombia's Medellin drug cartel in 1989, forcing him to resign his cabinet post. In the 1970s Lester Bird was named in a U.S. federal grand jury investigation that examined how Antigua was being used as a trans-shipment point for armaments being sent to the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Depending on whom you may ask the list of illicit activity conducted in the region is extensive and may in some cases not involve criminal matters. They may range from the trafficking in exotic birds and other animals to the trafficking in illegal arms and ammunition. Some bodies (OECD) go as far as to mention matters of money laundering and fraud. This wide spectrum of classification has resulted in the widening of the range of matters that the security forces and in turn governments are confronted with.

Antigua and Barbuda is an offshore center which continues to be vulnerable to money laundering and other financial crimes. Its relatively large financial sector and internet gaming industry add to its susceptibility. Antigua and Barbuda also operates a Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP) that increases its susceptibility to money laundering and other financial crimes. Antigua and Barbuda is a transit point for illegal drugs going to the United States and Europe.

Casinos and internet gaming maintain a strong presence in Antigua and Barbuda. The Financial Services Regulatory Commission (FSRC) regulates internet gaming companies, and the ONDCP maintains records of payouts over $25,000 (also reported to the FSRC). Regulations require internet gaming companies to incorporate as IBCs and the majority of individuals in key management positions to maintain a physical presence on the island. Additionally, domestic casinos must incorporate as domestic corporations.

According to the Antiguan Office of National Drug Control and Money Laundering Policy (ONDCP), the collaborative efforts between Antigua and Barbuda and U.S. law enforcement agencies have brought about a decrease in drug trafficking activity.

Money laundering, narcotics trafficking, gaming, and firearms trafficking are major sources of illicit funds in the country. Funds are laundered through the purchase of real estate, vehicles, vessels, and jewelry as well as through a variety of businesses.

The Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP) remains among the most lax in the world. An individual is eligible for economic citizenship with a $400,000 minimum investment in real estate, a contribution to the National Development Fund of $200,000, or a $1.5 million approved business investment. Applicants must make a source of funds declaration and provide evidence supporting the declaration. The government established a Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) to manage the screening and application process. The CIU does not maintain adequate autonomy from politicians to prevent political interference in its decisions.

Antigua and Barbuda has largely achieved technical compliance with international Anti-Money Laundering [AML] standards. The government has prosecuted few cases of money laundering and official corruption, and reports of corruption are endemic.

A former United Nations General Assembly president was arrested in New York October 06, 2015 and charged with accepting over a million dollars in bribes and committing tax fraud in a multi-year scheme to promote the interests of a Chinese businessman. John Ashe, 61, was Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the U.N. from 2004 until his election as the president of the 68th session of the General Assembly in 2013.

In a 37-page complaint, Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, detailed allegations against Ashe, including Ashe's acceptance of at least $1.3 million in bribes in 2013 and 2014 and his failure to pay U.S. taxes on them. “As alleged, for Rolexes, bespoke suits and a private basketball court, John Ashe, the 68th president of the U.N. General Assembly, sold himself and the global institution he led,” Bharara told reporters at a news conference announcing the indictment.

Ashe was accused of taking the money from Ng Lap Seng, also known as David Ng, a billionaire Chinese businessman from Macau with real estate and gambling interests. Ng was arrested on September 15, 2015 on separate charges. Prosecutors say Ng was seeking Ashe’s influence to promote the building of a multi-billion-dollar U.N. conference center in Macau.

In 2016, U.S. prosecutors alleged that government officials from Antigua and Barbuda participated in a corruption scandal involving the payout of close to $8 million in bribes by Brazilian construction contractor Odebrecht. The corruption allegations involve two high-level officials and two offshore banks in Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua and Barbuda continues to investigate allegations of money laundering.

The islands serve as a transit point in the international drugs trade, though their role is relatively minor compared to other Caribbean states such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. Antigua and Barbuda produces marijuana which is primarily for domestic consumption and not for export; according to the government, 70 percent of marijuana crops in the country are consumed locally.

After enjoying one of the lowest rates of violence in the region just a decade ago, Antigua and Barbuda has seen the number of recorded murders climb sharply. In 2008, officials in Antigua and Barbuda estimated that there were 15 active gangs in the country with between 264 and 570 members, many of whom are believed to be youths below the age of 17. The gangs are not highly organised and engage primarily in petty crime. What’s more, they are not thought to be among the primary drivers of violence; only one of the 28 murders committed from 2006-2007 was reported to be gang-related.

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implements these laws effectively when corruption is proven. Allegations of corruption against government officials in Antigua and Barbuda are fairly common; both political parties frequently accused the other of corruption, but investigations yielded few or no results. Antigua and Barbuda is party to the Inter-American Convention against Corruption. In 2006, it acceded to the United Nations Anti-Corruption Convention.

The Integrity in Public Life Act requires all public officials to disclose all income, assets (including those of spouses and children), and personal gifts while in public office. An Integrity Commission, established by the act and appointed by the governor general, receives and investigates complaints regarding noncompliance with, or contravention of any provisions of, this law or of the Prevention of Corruption Act. As the only agency charged with combating corruption, the Commission was independent but understaffed and under resourced. Critics stated the legislation was inadequately enforced and the act should be strengthened.

The Freedom of Information Act gives citizens the statutory right to access official documents from public authorities and agencies, and it created a commissioner to oversee the process. In practice, citizens found it difficult to obtain documents, possibly due to government funding constraints rather than obstruction. A specified unit is mandated to monitor and verify disclosures. By law, the disclosures are not made available to the public. There are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

In 2015, twelve Commonwealth Caribbean countries including Antigua and Barbuda, established a new regional body to enhance transparency and to help fight corruption. The formation of the Association of Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption Bodies in the Commonwealth Caribbean has been presented as a potentially important step forward in regional efforts to support integrity and address corruption. It is hoped that the new body will help to further strengthen public confidence in cross-border initiatives to enhance accountability, knowledge sharing and coordination.

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