Former Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr. D. Orlando Smith has denied criminal activity took place under his stewardship of the failed BVi airways deal which was set to bring direct flights between Miami and the Virgin Islands.
Dr. Smith took to Facebook
to defend himself in the face of the recently released Commission of Inquiry
) report which investigated allegations of corruption and other malpractices covering Smith's National Democratic Party (NDP) administration and the former ruling Virgin Islands Party (VIP) Government.
In his post, Dr. Smith referred specifically to the passage at page 374 of the COI
’s Report which found that the project was an example of poor governance on the part of the Government due to a failure to require financial statements from BV Airways; inadequate due diligence; and other examples of this kind. The Report goes on to suggest that from these criticisms of poor governance, it follows that some form of “serious dishonesty in relation to government officials may have taken place.”
"I wholly reject that conclusion – a conclusion that is not supported by any facts," Dr. Smith stated.
Persons would recall that Government provided BVI Airways with $7.2M with some of those payments being made outside a stipulated scheduled approved by the Cabinet at the time. Dr. Smith admitted during the CoI
hearing that he authorised Financial Secretary, Neil Smith to release payments to the airline outside the Cabinet-approved timetable.
Since then the Government has been seeking way to have recover the funds invested in the airline. So far, those effects have been futile.
Dr. Smith notes that the CoI
Report criticises Government officials for not carrying out sufficient due diligence.
"That in hindsight would be tantamount to poor governance. But it could never be elevated to criminality on the part of either the previous Financial Secretary or myself," Dr. Smith stated.
He added, "I state categorically that at no time during the four years or so that my government was involved with the US promotors of BVI Airways, in an effort to get the Airline started, was there any criminal activity – deliberate or by accident on our part. No facts have been alleged and no evidence shown which indicates otherwise. The CoI
Report itself does not set out justification for the suggestion that BVI Government officials may have committed a crime."
To the contrary, in agreeing to make an investment in BVI Airways, the Government relied on the advice of a trusted US lawyer and advisor of approximately 30 years of successive BVI Governments.
"We were let down by this advisor," Dr. Smith pointed out.
The former Premier said that he owes it to the people of the Virgin Islands
who placed their trust in him for over 19 consecutive years to reaffirm that not one day, did he violate that trust.
"In hindsight errors may have been made in terms of due diligence but at no time was there any act even remotely bordering on criminality committed on the part of myself or my colleagues. As stated in the Report, the project regretfully did not succeed. I as the Premier at the time immediately initiated legal and investigative activities to recover the monies that Government had invested. This matter is still ongoing before the Courts such that I will comment no further on it," Dr. Smith noted.
He stated that at the end of the day this is his 'legacy which must never be tied up with suggestions of criminality on my part'.