By Peter Richards
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says his country had been providing assistance to United States authorities since 2014 as it relates to the indictment in the United States of Paul Manafort, the former chairman of the US President Donald Trump election campaign team.
Manafort and his long-time associate, Rick Gates, were on Monday slapped with money laundering and tax evasion charges.
Gonsalves in an exclusive interview with the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) said that on assuming office in 2001, his administration revamped “very strongly” the laws in relation to the proceeds of crime and anti-money laundering, established a Financial Services Authority, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) “which is arguably one of the best in the Caribbean.
“We very swiftly became accepted as a member of elite FIUs the world over, the Egmont Group (and) we are absolutely on no list dealing with issues of money laundering, we have a clean bill of health from the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force, from the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)”.
He said these regional and international organisations deal with the guidelines for money laundering.
He said with regards to the Paul Manafort issue, long before Robert “Bob” Mueller became the special prosecutor “the subject matter was one of interest to certain authorities in the United States and they made contact with our FIU and our FIU provided all the requisite information.
“Then they followed up in 2016 and a request was made not too long ago which has been dealt with under the mutual legal assistance treaty in criminal matters (MLAT). They made a request through the Justice Department and we have dealt with that,” Gonsalves told CMC.
According to the indictment, between at least 2006 and 2015, Manafort and Gates generated tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of work in Ukraine.
In order to hide Ukraine payments from United States authorities, from approximately 2006 through at least 2016, the defendants laundered the money through scores of U.S. and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts,
In furtherance of the scheme, the defendants allegedly funnelled millions of dollars in payments into foreign nominee companies and bank accounts, opened by them and their accomplices in nominee names and in various foreign countries, including Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Seychelles, the indictment said.
Gonsalves told CMC “we have cooperated fully” and reiterated the joint position outlined by the National Anti-Money Laundering Committee (NAMLC), the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the Financial Intelligence Unit in his country denouncing the description of the island as being “notorious for money laundering” and a “prime money laundering destination”.
The three entities said they considered “such descriptions linking St. Vincent and the Grenadines with money laundering to be “uninformed, outdated, erroneous and inaccurate” and Gonsalves said “that’s the view of a journalist who doesn’t know what is happening in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“He might have looked up something from 2000 when St. Vincent and the Grenadines was blacklisted because of quote, unquote money laundering. Not that it had a lot of money laundering, but its regime to fight money laundering was very loose,” he told CMC.
Gonsalves noted that the local authorities have been cooperating with the United States “and St. Vincent and the Grenadines has not done anything other than act quite properly in this matter.
“I am happy to know that they are pleased with the assistance St. Vincent and the Grenadines has provided,” he said, adding that an examination of the list of financial institutions listed in the indictment “against Manafort and his sidekick, there are 17 of them in the United States…13 of them in Cyprus, one in the United Kingdom and two in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but one of the two … is a mirror image of the other one involving the same personalities…”
“We have a clean jurisdiction and we have cooperated fully with the U.S. authorities and we have absolutely nothing which can be put at us as we have done anything wrong. It is clear, absolutely clear,” Gonsalves told CMC.
He has pledged to ‘continue to cooperate “with the US authorities, adding “their FIU in America and our FIU belong to the Egmont Group and they share information and we have a mutual treaty in criminal matters with the United States and that has been operationalised.
“We are a very responsible international finance destination,” Gonsalves told CMC.