Britain-born businessman Dave Ames, who is a naturalized Vincentian, did not leave St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) illegally last month, although he left after he was summoned to appear in court to answer several criminal charges.
Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Ralph Gonsalves confirmed at a press conference on Monday that Ames left the country by boat via the Chateaubelair Port — a port of entry and exit.
Citing a report from the Chief Immigration Officer, Gonsalves said that Ames left “for Martinique or somewhere”.
Gonsalves told the media that he suspects that the authorities know where Ames is, adding, “But individuals are mobile.”
The Crown has brought eight charges tax evasion and theft charges against Ames and four tax evasion charges against his lawyer, Samuel Commissiong.
Ames is founder of Harlequin Hotels and Resorts, parent company of Buccament Bay Resort Ltd. and Harlequin Property SVG Ltd.
He left SVG after he was summed to appear in court to answer the charges.
There are reports that left SVG one day after receiving the summons, while other reports say he left a full week after — several days after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
The Crown is alleging that Ames failed to pay into the State coffers monies he collected in value-added tax and pay-as-you-earn tax (PAYE) withdrawn from the wages of his staff.
Questions have been raised regarding why the Crown proceeded by way of summons, rather than an arrest warrant – which, in effect, allowed Ames the opportunity to flee.
A source with knowledge of the investigation has told iWitness News that the Crown decided to proceed by way of summons after a lawyer for Ames lobbied prosecutors not to arrest Ames in light of a hearing in Kingstown in a case he has filed in the British High Court claiming US$70 million from his former accountant.
At Monday’s press conference, Gonsalves was asked why Ames was allowed to leave the state
“He wasn’t allowed to leave the state,” the Prime Minister responded.
Citing a report from the Chief Immigration Officer, Gonsalves said that as he understands it, Ames did not leave the country illegally.
“So he actually left legitimately. But there was no watch put at any port in respect of him going, because he was just charged and he was to come to the court,” Gonsalves said.
He said that if the court had issued a warrant for Ames, that warrant would have been placed at all ports of entry or exit.
An arrest warrant was issued after Ames failed to appear in court, as Commissiong did.
Gonsalves said that when someone is summoned to appear in court and is in the jurisdiction, authorities would not normally issue stop notices preventing them from leaving.
“The usual thing – he’s in the jurisdiction — you don’t put a stop [notice] because it is expected that he will come to court. And, of course, he has assets in the country. But he left.
“… it would have been more problematic for the state is if after a warrant had been issued that he left…” Gonsalves said.
He noted that Ames is a national of SVG, adding that is a matter that the prosecuting authorities, no doubt, are looking at.
He said that as Minister of Finance, he held discussions with the Comptroller of Inland Revenue that he cannot disclose.
He said the Controller sent documentation to the Director of Public Prosecution and Ames took a decision to leave the country having been summoned to come to court on the tax matters.
Gonsalves said he is looking to see what the prosecuting authorities will be doing to see how they could get Ames to come to SVG to answer to the charges.