|08BRIDGETOWN706||2008-12-03 17:30:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Bridgetown|
VZCZCXYZ0010 RR RUEHWEB DE RUEHWN #0706 3381730 ZNY CCCCC ZZH R 031730Z DEC 08 FM AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6921 INFO RUEHDG/AMEMBASSY SANTO DOMINGO 5955 RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC RHMFISS/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L BRIDGETOWN 000706
1. (SBU) The long-running saga of the Minister Richard
Frederick's corruption case appears headed towards a final
resolution. Frederick lost his action for dismissal of
charges against him relating to evasion of taxes for the
importation of a vehicle, and the case is finally headed to
trial. If Frederick loses in court, and is convicted of
criminal tax evasion, he will be forced to resign. End
2. (C) Five years ago, St. Lucian Housing Minister Richard
Frederick imported two cars, worth USD 70,000, from Florida
duty-free. The Comptroller of Customs, Terrence Leonard,
objected to the duty-free status of the cars and charged
Minister Frederick with criminal tax evasion. He had the
Minister detained and questioned over one year ago, but did
not file criminal charges at that time. Ever since then the
two have been engaging in a long-running legal and public
relations battle. Leonard maintains that the Minister
knowingly evaded paying proper customs duty on the vehicles.
The Minister disputes the claim, maintaining that he was
entitled to the duty-free importation by virtue of his status
as a member of government, and arguing that too long a time
has passed since he imported the cars, so the case against
him should be dismissed. The Customs comptroller has
complained ever since then that he has been blocked in
pursuing charges against Frederick by the Attorney General
and others in the government allied with the Minister.
Frederick is very popular among the poorer elements of
Castries, but is widely seen as corrupt, and some also claim
that he is allied with narco-traffickers.
3. (C) In the most recent court battle, Minister Frederick
filed two suits against the government. The first suit
sought to have the customs case dismissed, charging that it
was without merit and had been instigated to embarrass him
politically. He also sought damages of USD 448,000 in
compensation for loss of use, return of the vehicles and for
wrongful arrest in the customs investigation. The court
ruled against Frederick in the attempt to have the customs
case dismissed and ruled against him in refusing to enter
damages against him for wrongful arrest. This ruling now
opens the way for the Customs Comptroller to formally charge
him with criminal evasion of customs duty. Poloff spoke with
Leonard, who was very pleased that he would finally get his
day in court. He noted that Frederick has filed an emergency
appeal, but is confident Frederick will lose the appeal and
the case will proceed to trial, probably early in January.
4. (C) The Frederick case has been at the center of St.
Lucian politics for a number of years. In addition to the
customs case and possible narcotics ties, several American
investors claim that he illegally expropriated land holdings.
They have appealed the decision to the Prime Minister.
Minister Frederick is politically well connected, however,
and is closely allied with Rufus Bousquet's faction of the
ruling party. In person, Frederick can be charming and
gregarious, but also comes across as self serving and
duplicitous. The Customs Comptroller has a well deserved
reputation for being both the most honest government official
in St. Lucia and for being as stubborn as a pitbull. Despite
the wishes of many that this case would go away, he clearly
has persevered in not letting the matter rest. If Frederick
is convicted, it will remove one major source of opposition
to Prime Minister King within the cabinet, allowing the PM to
consolidate his shaky base of power. End comment.