Vincentians who feel wronged by recalled diplomat, Edson Augustus should not expect him to see him tried in the nation’s courts.
The former deputy consul general at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) Consulate in New York was recalled on Feb. 7 for taking money from out-of-status persons in New York and promising to help them secure U.S. Permanent Resident Cards, commonly called “Green Cards”.
“We know that he was charging them — the ones we have confirmed so far are in the neighbourhood of five to six thousand U.S. dollars a pop,” Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sen. Camillo Gonsalves, said in an interview with a local television station, broadcast on Sunday.
While Augustus acted outside of the scope of employment and embarrassed the nation, he did not break the laws of SVG, Gonsalves said.
“Based on the information that we have so far, Mr. Augustus hasn’t committed a crime. Mr. Augustus may have defrauded somebody up there, but I don’t have the specifics of what he promised or what the nature of agreement was,” said Gonsalves, a lawyer and former ambassador to the United Nations.
“If he says, ‘Give me some money and I can help you out’, I don’t think there is enough basis there for a crime, even in the United States. But what we know him to have done, doesn’t amount to a crime in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” the Foreign Affairs Minister said.
He further said he does not think the former deputy consul general’s action could negatively affect Vincentians applying for visas or other status in the United States.
“This is a situation where somebody, for want of a better word, was preying on the vulnerabilities of Vincentians in the diaspora. There is not interface between what he was doing and what states do in determining who gets a visa and who doesn’t get a visa,” Gonsalves said.
Augustus was appointed in May 2011, under the tenure of then minister of foreign affair, former senator, Douglas Slater.
During his appearance on the television programme, Gonsalves defended Augustus’ appointment, saying that former pastor, who left the Seventh Day Adventists Church amidst allegations three months before his appointment, had the requisite skills for a diplomatic post.
Asked if the situation could have been avoided if there had been greater due diligence, Gonsalves said:
“I don’t know. I mean everybody has 20-20 hindsight in these sorts of things and everybody is what they would call in the U.S. a Monday morning quarterback.
“But Mr. Augustus has particular talents that made him well suited for the position that he took.”
Gonsalves said Augustus was congratulated for the manner in which he handled the relief effort in New York after the Christmas flood in St. Vincent.
He said that from all accounts, Augustus was proactive and hands-on.
“These are the sorts of things that we want our deputy consul general to do. So, he had a number of talents that made him well suited for the post.
“So, in that sense, based on his talents, he was well-selected. Now, after the fact of course, you can say, ‘Look at what he has done; he shouldn’t have done it.’ And you can make all sorts of decisions; but I certainly understand why he was chosen at the point at which he was chosen.”
Asked if the government was aware of the allegations after Augustus left the SDA church and if the government investigated them sufficiently, Gonsalves said:
“I don’t believe that the government was aware that he was read out. In fact, I don’t know if he was read out.”
Gonsalves further noted that his and Augustus’ ambassadorial stints overlapped.
Gonsalves said that in New York, Augustus was referred to as “Pastor Augustus” and was very active in the SDA Church and was an integral part of the SDA community in Brooklyn.
He, however, noted the embarrassment of having to recall a diplomat in circumstances such as Augustus’ recall.
“But the facts of what he did, what we know, are not nearly as embarrassing as what would have been potentially embarrassing if some of these allegations are true.
“It is not a good moment that you have to recall a diplomat…” Gonsalves further said, but noted that the government received reports on Feb. 5 and recalled Augustus two days later.
“And it think that that should be something to the credit of the government and the administration,” he said.
As of Friday evening, Augustus was yet to return to SVG.
Meanwhile, Gonsalves told I-Witness News on Friday that Augustus was en route to SVG, and he expects him to arrive to SVG in a few days.
“I don’t know if he is going to make a stop to see family elsewhere before he gets here,” Gonsalves told I-Witness News.