|U.K. reimburses TCI for 2011-12 SIPT, Civil Recovery||| Print ||
|Thursday, 26 April 2012 09:42|
Just as it did last year, the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has come up with the money to pay for another year of criminal and civil investigations into alleged corruption by former Turks and Caicos Islands government officials and others.
The $7.6 million that it cost in 2011-12 for the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team represented more than 4 percent of government spending.
“In view of the exceptional situation, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (William Hague) agreed to make a further grant of £3.8 million in financial year 2011-12,” FCO Minister Henry Bellingham told the House of Commons on April 26. “The foreign secretary also approved an additional £745,000 contribution to the cost of setting up a suitable courtroom for the trials which will be held as a result of the investigation.”
The British government paid another £86,000 for costs in the U.K. relating to the SIPT.
Funding for the investigations that have so far led to charges against 13 people — including five former government ministers — and recovered millions of dollars in land and cash has been a sore point since Sir Robin Auld recommended the probes in his Commission of Inquiry Report of 2009.
The initial lack of money from the U.K. delayed the start of the investigations by many months, and the TCI was budgeted to spend $10 million in 2010-11. That drew criticism from Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, SIPT lead prosecutor Helen Garlick and even Sir Robin himself, who said the U.K. should pay.
At the end of fiscal year 2010-11, the FCO gave what it called a “one-off” reimbursement of more than $10 million, saying the TCI should expect to pay future investigation expenses.
Members of the Consultative Forum and many citizens misinterpreted that gesture as a guarantee of future funding, but the U.K. stuck to its guns. His Excellency the Gov. Rick Todd said in December that he would ask for reimbursement for 2011-12, and on April 26 he said he was pleased the money came through.
A government press release announcing the latest reimbursement made no mention of who would pay for future costs, and the government’s budget for 2012-13 has not been revealed or approved.
Why should UK fund an investigation in an Overseas Territory?
Normally it is for Overseas Territory governments to fund criminal investigations within their jurisdiction. However, the cost of the SIPT investigation in FY 2011-12 was US$7.6m. This represents over 4% of TCI government annual expenditure and a significant funding challenge for them.
In view of this exceptional situation, the UK Government decided to reimburse the TCI government for a proportion of the costs associated with the continuing criminal investigation and associated prosecutions.
Why has the cost of the investigation been so high?
This remains a difficult and complex investigation working across international borders, and dealing with law enforcement and judicial authorities in a number of countries. The SIPT has had offices in both the UK and the TCI, although the UK office has now closed. There has been a significant travel element moving and rotating individual officers and investigative teams between the UK and TCI.
Ultimately, the costs of the SIPT and the separate Civil Recovery programme need to be looked at against the recoveries of money and land by the SIPT and the Civil Recovery Team. The SIPT has agreed a civil recovery order with one individual who has paid the sum of US$1.25m. The Civil Recovery team has made in excess of 40 separate recoveries of money and/or land. The monetary element is US$12m including payments already made, judgements obtained and still to be collected and agreements to pay. More than 900 acres of land have also been returned to the Crown with a value of tens of millions of dollars.
How long will the investigation and prosecutions take?
To date, 13 people have been charged with corruption, conspiracy to defraud and money laundering. Sufficiency (preliminary) hearings have started in the High Court in TCI and in ten of the cases the judge has ruled that there is a case to answer. Further hearings for the remaining three cases will take place in May. Whilst the size of the investigation team has been considerably reduced, the investigation is ongoing. The focus will now turn to the prosecution of the cases that are passed to the Supreme Court for trial.
Why not leave the investigation to the TCI police force rather than go to the expense of bringing in a team from the UK?
The RTCIPF is an experienced and dedicated force. This would be an exceptionally difficult and complex investigation for any police force. It is even more difficult for a small jurisdiction such as TCI, where the RTCIPF still has carry out its day to day policing of the Territory.
If this was an investigation in the UK, it would be dealt with by the Serious Fraud Office, because it would need to have a team of officers with specialist fraud squad and major investigation experience. The investigation team consisting of former police officers from the UK provide that experience.
It is important that the investigation is completely independent and that it is seen to be so. The TCI is a very small jurisdiction and an investigation into prominent public figures would raise exactly the same concerns anywhere in the world. In a similar situation in the UK, an outside police force would be brought in to investigate and there is plenty of precedent for this.
The investigation team were sworn in as Special Constables under the Royal TCI Police Ordinance.
The elections should be delayed until all those being investigated have been tried?
The Joint FCO/DFID Written Ministerial Statement of 9 December 2010 set out the milestones that Ministers judged would need to be met before elections could take place in TCI. They said that they wanted to see “Significant progress with the civil and criminal processes recommended by the Commission of Inquiry, and implementation of measures to enable these to continue unimpeded”.
It would not be right to delay restoration of democracy longer than necessary.
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