It is the solemn duty and responsibility of every Government to uphold the rule of law and to ensure that those entrusted with the discharge of the duties of a public office are held accountable for any malfeasance, wrongdoing or breaches of the public trust. Under the previous administration, Dr. Ernest Hilaire held office as Saint Lucia’s High Commissioner to England until October 2015. As such, he was one of Saint Lucia’s most senior diplomats and was the face of the people of Saint Lucia on the international stage.
The facts, as disclosed by correspondence and official documents obtained are that:
- In April 2015, towards the end of his tenure as High Commissioner, Dr. Hilaire purchased in his own name a Range Rover motor vehicle and claimed and obtained from the UK Government a waiver of Value Added Tax (VAT) on the vehicle by virtue of his diplomatic status. That vehicle was subsequently exported to Saint Lucia and is now registered in his brother’s name.
- In June 2015, Tafawa Williams, an employee of Dr. Walid Juffali that was assigned to the High Commission, attempted to purchase a vehicle, a Land Rover Discovery Sport. Mr. Williams applied in his own right to the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (“FCO”) for VAT exemption in respect of the purchase of Discovery Sport on the basis that he was a diplomat. Mr. Williams’ application was supported by a letter, bearing the letterhead of the High Commission, from Dr. Hilaire, acting in his capacity as High Commissioner, requesting that Mr. Williams be extended the usual courtesies.
- When it became apparent that Mr. Williams was not entitled to VAT exemption, his application was subsequently withdrawn, and the purchase of the Discovery Sport by or through Mr. Williams was aborted. An email dated September 1, 2015, which was sent by Amanda Ellis of the FCO to the High Commission, confirms that Dr. Hilaire’s personal assistant, Linda Hamilton, informed the FCO that Mr. Williams’ application had been “submitted in error”, and that the Discovery Sport was in fact “an official Embassy fleet vehicle rather than a new duty free vehicle purchased by Mr Williams”.
- In November 2015, the Discovery Sport was purchased in the name of the Saint Lucia High Commission. Again, a VAT waiver was claimed and was granted by the UK Government, this time on the basis that the Discovery Sport formed part of the High Commission’s fleet of vehicles.
- The Discovery Sport was exported to Saint Lucia in December 2015, ostensibly as a vehicle that was owned by the High Commission. On arrival in Saint Lucia, the Discovery Sport was registered in Saint Lucia in Dr. Hilaire’s name.
When these matters were discovered, they unsurprisingly raised serious concerns and the Government demanded an explanation. On the face of it, documents that had been prepared and submitted to the UK authorities by Dr. Hilaire stated unequivocally that the Discovery Sport was bought by the High Commission and belonged to the Government of Saint Lucia. Those documents naturally begged the question why, then, was the vehicle registered in Saint Lucia in Dr. Hilaire’s name and being used by Dr. Hilaire? Dr. Hilaire now says that he, and not the High Commission, bought and paid for the Discovery Sport and that it always belonged to him, not the High Commission.
If Dr. Hilaire’s assertion is true, then it raises additional serious concerns that demand further explanation. For example, Dr. Hilaire must explain and answer:
- Did he misrepresent to the British FCO that the Range Rover was his, when, in fact, he bought it for his brother?
- Did he attempt to purchase the Discovery Sport in the name of Tafawa Williams, and not in his own name, and then abort the transaction when he realized that Mr. Williams was not entitled to VAT exemption?
- Did he represent to the FCO that the Discovery Sport was being purchased by Mr. Tafawa Williams, and then later falsely represent to the FCO that the Discovery Sport was part of the fleet of the High Commission?
- Why did he purchase the Discovery Sport in the name of the High Commission, and not his own name?
- How does he explain the VAT waivers by the UK Government in respect of both vehicles, when he knew that, as a diplomat, he was only entitled to VAT exemption in respect of one vehicle?
- In connection with obtaining the VAT waivers and to facilitate the export of the vehicles to Saint Lucia, did he prepare or cause to be prepared and submitted to the UK authorities official documents (Form TX 26 – Application To Purchase A British Car at a Tax-Exclusive Price and Form TX 23 – Application To Dispose Of A Diplomatic Registered Vehicle) that contained materially false statements regarding the ownership of the vehicles?
Based on the answers and explanations to these questions, one then needs to ask whether Dr. Hilaire gave perjured testimony in an affidavit that he filed in Court on September 3, 2018 that the Discovery Sport was purchased in the name of Tafawa Williams.
In the absence of any credible explanation, the only reasonable inference to be drawn from these facts is that Dr. Hilaire’s actions were intended to, and did in fact, fraudulently and unlawfully secure for him personally the benefit of a substantial tax exemption to which he was not otherwise entitled and, in doing so, to perpetrate a fraud against the Government of the United Kingdom. He did so while holding office as High Commissioner and in the name of the High Commission for Saint Lucia. He has, once again, tarnished the reputation and dignity of the people of Saint Lucia by his selfish and dishonest conduct and has brought the country’s good name into disrepute.
Dr. Hilaire would seek to escape accountability for his actions by framing these serious and disturbing allegations in the narrative of political victimization. He would seek to trivialize and dismiss them, by falsely asserting that the Prime Minister is pursuing a personal vendetta against him. But the facts speak for themselves and the documents unmistakably chronicle, and indict him for, his shameful fraud and malfeasance.
The Government of Saint Lucia will not be deterred, in the performance of its duty to uphold the rule of law, by the disingenuous rhetoric of Dr. Hilaire. No one is above the law, and Dr. Hilaire must answer to the people of Saint Lucia. He must, and will, be held to account. Responsible and transparent governance demands nothing less.