In a woeful attempt to tarnish the reputation of the small-island nation of Dominica, images of a Dominican passport belonging to alleged fraudster, Brenda Smith, have been used exploitatively in an article by “the Inquirer” to report her recent grand jury charge.
Smith, a national of the United States, was arrested in August 2019 and subsequently charged on 2nd June 2020 with six counts of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud, in an indictment that detailed Smith’s alleged orchestration of a Ponzi scheme.
The Inquirer’s decision to use a picture of Smith’s Dominican passport reveals a shameless determination to undermine the legitimacy of Dominica’s celebrated Citizenship by Investment Programme; and is more indicative of inadequate research than investigative skill.
The Citizenship by Investment Programme of Dominica has received international acclaim for its commitment to conducting robust, multi-layered due diligence on all applicants for citizenship. Upon submission of an application to Dominica’s Citizenship by Investment Unit, applicants are scrutinised by internal experts who are trained in anti-money laundering, counter-terrorism financing, and document review, as well as by independent, world-renowned due diligence firms. These external due diligence firms perform both online and on-the-ground checks on an applicant’s identity, moral character, and source of funds. Applications are also forwarded to the Unit’s international and regional partners, including Interpol and the Joint Regional Communications Centre. Indeed, Dominica’s stringent due diligence process has led to the country receiving many accolades, including in the Financial Times’ CBI Index, where Dominica has scored top marks for its due diligence for three consecutive years.
At the time due diligence was conducted and Brenda Smith received citizenship of Dominica, she was a reputable individual with a clean source of funds. The fact that she subsequently chose to behave in a morally reprehensible manner, years after receiving Dominican citizenship, is a feat outside of Dominica’s control. It is disappointing that a small number of journalists, when unable to find a fault with due diligence, instead resort to implying fault by blindly equating one’s economic citizenship with a subsequent misdemeanour. One could question why Smith’s United States passport was not displayed by the Inquirer in connection with her alleged crime.
Sadly, this is not the only instance of poor journalism threatening to harm Dominica’s reputation.
A recent article by BBC Pidgin has attempted to re-ignite stale, unsubstantiated reports that Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit was involved in the sale of a diplomatic passport to former Nigerian oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
Though Alison-Madueke was indeed appointed a Dominican diplomat, at the time of her appointment she held an upstanding reputation as a well-connected, successful politician and had even been awarded the Best of Africa Award in leadership by Forbes magazine and was indeed elected First Female President at the 166th OPEC Ordinary meeting in Vienna on 27 November 2014.
Prime Minister Skerrit could not have foreseen that she would later face allegations of financial misconduct.
For nations like Dominica, which by virtue of their small size are unable to station embassies in multiple countries across the globe, the issue of diplomatic passports to highly regarded foreign nationals is an important means to foster international relations. Moreover, extensive vetting is conducted upon all potential representatives before a diplomatic passport is issued. Hence, the BBC Pidgin article in question is merely another instance of poorly conducted journalism. In fact, the article even makes the elementary mistake of confusing Dominica with fellow Caribbean island, the Dominican Republic; calling into further question the veracity of the article.
WHERE ARE THE INTERPOLS?
Nigerian fraud enforcement Economic and Financial Corruption Commission [EFCC] operatives reported lately that with the diplomatic passport, “Diezani is immune to arrest by any law enforcement agency, including the Interpol”. Moreso, the documents contain a restraining order which demands that the bearer is allowed to pass freely without let or hindrance and afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary by the authority of the President of the Commonwealth of Dominica requests in the Name of the Government of Dominica.
Among other acts of corruption, the former minister has been accused of fraudulent ownership of 76 luxurious property worth about N23 billion in choice areas of Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt in Nigeria. There were unverified reports to assume the BBC’s Pidgin have any verification as to why Dominica appointed her as a trade envoy with diplomatic status in a sketchy claim that Mrs Alison-Madueke might have struck a deal with Prime Ministet Sterik over a New York property. She is currently charged with 14 counts bordering on theft and concealment to the tune of $153 million filed against her by the EFCC.
Furthermore, many local media always jump in to trumpeting the news of raids on some of her homes in Nigeria conducted by EFCC which narrated that they have revealed gold jewellery and wristwatches worth millions of dollars owned by the former petroleum Minister.
Evidently, standing at the front line of the fight against climate change, Dominica has built a strong, sustainable economy against all the odds. Unfortunately, irresponsible journalism such as the examples discussed, threaten to undermine the significant progress made by Dominica in crafting a more prosperous life for its citizens. Failure to thoroughly investigate claims of corruption, or perhaps more accurately, blatant attempts to discredit the reputation of citizenship by investment nations, are damning illustrations of the “fake news” era in which we find ourselves.