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Hyginus “Gene” Leon has resigned as president of the Caribbean Development Bank. (File photo)
Hyginus “Gene” Leon has resigned as president of the Caribbean Development Bank. (File photo)

By Peter Richards

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — The Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Tuesday remained mum on the resignation of its president, Hyginus “Gene” Leon, who has also threatened to file a lawsuit against the region’s premier financial institution.

In a one-line reply to the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) request for a response to Leon’s “immediate resignation”, the CDB simply stated, “The Bank has no comment at this time”.

According to a three-page letter sent to the CDB by the St. Lucia-based law firm, FOSTERS, Leon is of the opinion that “he will never be treated fairly” after he had been sent on administrative leave in January.

“It is also evident that the Bank has lost all trust and confidence in our client by the failure of the Board of Governors to prevent the continued violations of its Charter, policies, rules and regulations with regard to its elected President.

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“Our client has therefore made the extremely difficult decision to resign his elected position of the President of the Bank with immediate effect,” the law firm wrote.

The lawyers have given the regional financial institution until May 4 “to negotiate an amicable separation” indicating also that their correspondence should be viewed “as our client’s pre action protocol letter” regarding the entire situation.

In the April 21 letter headlined “Re. Dr. Hyginus “Gene” Leon, Resignation and Constructive Dismissal”, a copy of which has been obtained by CMC, the law firm said it would be moving to the courts in Barbados “or any other jurisdiction more appropriate, to enforce our client’s legal and constitutional rights”.

“My view has been, having reviewed everything in depth with regards to the Bank, how it is run, read all of its policies, it would seem that the Bank has not followed its own policies,” attorney Peter Foster KC said.

“They are specific policy requirements regarding the investigation of a president and very simply that if one of these committees … if they have found through whistleblowing report to them and there is some information requiring an investigation they are supposed to escalate that to the Board of Directors through another sub-committee ….

“With that initial report, the Board of Directors would then have to consider whether or not there is sufficient in that whistle-blower report to escalate it to the Board of Governors and the Board of Governors would have to meet and then make a determination”.

Foster said “none of that was done” and Leon was sent on leave unceremoniously by a three-member committee and everybody staying quiet after that. He was treated very unfairly”.

In January, it was disclosed that Leon had been sent on administrative leave until April this year, as “an ongoing administrative process” continued at the region’s premier financial institution.

The CDB has remained mum on the circumstances surrounding the decision to send the St. Lucian-born economist on administrative leave, with the acting president Isaac Solomon, confirming at a bank news conference in February that “there is an internal administrative process involving the president.

In February, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who was attending the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) summit in Guyana, said concerns had been raised about the method used to send Leon on administrative leave.

“… at some point we will have to address the issue of the procedures and the fact that subordinates within an institution can literally take disciplinary action against their superior without even consulting with the directors or the governors of the bank”.

In their letter, the lawyers wrote that “On the 16th of April 2024, 40 hours after our client’s leave expired, our client received a letter of notification of leave extension signed by the chairman of the OAC, but stating that it was from “the Board of Directors of the Bank (currently carrying out the functions of the OAC with respect to the investigation…).

“We are uncertain at this stage of the significance of this as the OAC is not the Board of Directors and the Board of Directors is not the OAC. The meeting on the 16th of April 2024, was another breach of the Bank’s by-laws, the Charter and its policies,” the lawyers wrote.

In their letter, the lawyers noted that the Board of Governors has “never responded” to them regarding “our letters of complaint about the manner in which the investigation has been initiated, and allowed to continue.

“Our many letters consistently complained that the Bank has breached and is in violation of its own charter, laws, rules, regulations, and policies as regards the conduct of an investigation pertaining to the elected president”.

They wrote that central to the complaint is that their client “has only been informed of the general, barebones nature of the wide complaints levelled against him”.

“These complaints continue to be bare, nonspecific, allegations without condescending to any particulars of the circumstances of the complaints including but not limited to dates, subjects, places or references to the evidence to support the grave and serious allegations made against our client”.

The lawyers wrote that the initiation of the investigations “was and continues to be in violation of Annex 10 of the ICA Procedures for Special Investigations, the Code of Conduct for Directors, and Uniform Principles and Guidelines for investigations and many other policies of the Bank and its Charter”.

The lawyers said in their view, the conduct of the investigation has been “unconventional, does not follow due process, and does not adhere to the best practices reflected in the more established  Multilateral Development Banks.

“All of these complaints have been meticulously set out in our previous letters,” they said, adding “we are therefore of the opinion that the grave procedural irregularities fatally taint the initiation and continuation of the investigation, rendering it null and void ab initio”.

The lawyers said that Leon’s “wrongful suspension” ended on April 14 this year and that he endeavoured to return to work the following day “despite the embarrassment of his forced and unlawful leave and the humiliation of not having received any communication prior to the expiration of leave.

They said Leon also wrote the Director of Human Resources to have his access to the Bank restored and to have returned to him, his laptop, iPad and iPhone “so that he could carry out his duties as President.

“We also sent a letter to the Board of Governors suggesting an orderly process for our client’s return to work, consequent on the termination of the “forced” leave and wrongful suspension imposed on him.

“Our client received an email after the end of the working day from the Director, Human Resources, stating that he had no authority to so act, to restore our client’s access to the Bank, and the return of his devices”.

The lawyers said given the publicity “surrounding the President’s suspension for unethical conduct and the severe reputation damage so far to our client, the non communicated, abrupt extension of leave is clearly a less than stellar commitment  by the Bank to its adherence to integrity and transparency”.

The lawyers also referred to a letter they received from the Washington-based law firm, Arnold & Porter indicating that the Board of Directors was convening a meeting on April 16 to determine whether to extend Leon’s paid administrative leave “pending the conclusion of the investigation”.

Leon is the sixth president of the regional development finance institution. He was elected at a special meeting of the CDB Board of Governors held on Jan. 19, 2021, for a five-year term, and assumed office on May 4, 2021.

Leon headed a team of more than 200 employees headquartered in Bridgetown and came to the assignment with 35 years of experience in economics, financial policy development, and executive management, more than 20 of which were spent working with the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He had succeeded Jamaican-born Warren Smith who retired in 2021 after serving as president for 10 years.