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Opposition Sends Letter to Customs: “The People Have the Right to Know!”

In an official letter dated January 5th 2022, Leader of the Opposition Honourable Allen Chastanet has demanded answers from the Acting Comptroller of Customs & Excise, Mr. Sherman Emmanuel, surrounding the decision to withdraw the criminal case against Dr Ernest Hilaire regarding the importation of a Range Rover Discovery Sport motor vehicle.

He said the issue of the case withdrawal has been heavily debated in the public domain for several weeks and shortly before Christmas, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia Hon. Philip J. Pierre publicly acknowledged his presence in court “to ensure justice was served” in the matter between Mr. Ernest Hilaire and the Department of Customs.

According to Chastanet the Constitution of Saint Lucia guarantees the independence of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. In the matter at hand, the present acting customs comptroller decided to withdraw an application before the court, placed by his immediate predecessor. His decision denied the court the opportunity to decide the case on its merits.

“To date there has been no word on the decision by the acting comptroller to withdraw the application. There has been no public accounting, not by customs and not by the offices of the attorney general or the director of public prosecutions,” Chastanet said.

He is demanding accountability on the matter and questions why the Prime Minister and Ernest Hilaire’s lawyer, Thaddeus Antoine have been speaking on this issue while the silence from the Customs department has been and continues to be deafening.

“The proper conclusion to this long standing case is critically important to our country’s reputation, the public’s and our international partner’s trust in our Government, its institutions and the rule of law,” the Opposition Leader stated in the letter.

“In particular, we are concerned about the integrity of our Department of Customs and its officers, the reputation of our Foreign Office and its adherence to its Diplomatic agreements and obligations. It is my hope that in your deliberations, you equally considered these important concerns and considerations as you would be duty bound to do,” Chastanet stated.

Mr. Chastanet, In the letter, lays out in extreme detail the chronological facts concerning the case and provided supporting documents. He made reference to the initial queries of the Department of Finance in a letter of November 2017 which brought attention to the conflict of information regarding the ownership of the subject vehicle purported to belong to Dr Hilaire. The Department of Finance letter, among other things, requested that Customs confirm the ownership of the vehicle as records showed that the Land Rover was purchased in the name of the Saint Lucia High Commission.

In the interest of the public’s right to know, the Opposition Leader posed further specific questions to the Acting Customs Comptroller, as follows:

1. Is it not a fact that you failed to consult with the Director of Public Prosecutions, under whose office this prosecution was being conducted and under whose office and authority the prosecutor was acting, prior to your purported decision to withdraw the case and to support the request for the Court to “dismiss” the case;

2. Is it not a fact that you consulted with the current Attorney General, Hon Leslie Mondesir, prior to your withdrawal of the case, supposedly seeking his advice on the matter? Did it not occur to you, that Mr Mondesir was conflicted in the matter, having represented Dr Hilaire as one of his co-counsel in the very case on which you sought his advice supposedly on behalf of the State or Customs department; what advice did you receive from Mr Mondesir?

3. Is it not a fact that you failed to consult the Director of Finance to understand the relevance of the two letters that were sent to the Comptroller on this matter and have you now satisfactorily answered the question as to whom the vehicle belongs to?

4. Is it not a fact that you failed to consult the previous acting Comptroller of Customs? Chastanet, further, stressed to the Acting Comptroller the importance of answering these questions and explaining his silence on the important matter.

The Opposition Leader stated that this was no ordinary case “and now requires you to publicly reveal the details of your discussions or at least the facts you relied upon to make your decision, failing which the Office of the Leader of the Opposition will be forced to pursue all remedies available at law to compel you so to do.

“Please do note, that all rights are reserved with regard to challenging the purported withdrawal of the case by you.” Stated Chastanet in the letter.

He called on the Acting Comptroller to “treat this matter with the seriousness, respect, honesty and transparency it demands.”

“The citizens of Saint Lucia and our diplomatic partners expect nothing less than clarity on this matter and that this matter has been treated fairly and impartially and consistent with the Laws of Saint Lucia,” Chastanet stated.

He gave the Acting Comptroller 14 days within receipt of the letter to respond.

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