By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday broke his silence over allegations of a $27m fraud levelled against Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest saying Cabinet is “deliberating” over how it will handle the situation.
In the face of calls for Dr Minnis to either fire Mr Turnquest or demand his resignation, the Prime Minister did not give any insight or explanation of what Bahamians could expect from his administration on the issue.
He was asked if he planned to launch an official investigation.
“No, it’s a court matter right now and (the) Cabinet is deliberating,” Dr Minnis told reporters. “We’ll get back to you as soon as (the) Cabinet completes our deliberation and discussion.”
When asked whether there was concern from his office that the allegations represented impropriety in his Cabinet, Dr Minnis repeated that officials were mulling over the situation.
Asked if he was concerned the allegations against his second-in-command would hurt his party’s standing in the next general election, Dr Minnis said the electorate was aware that his administration faced many challenges since taking office in 2017.
“I think the people know exactly what we’re doing. The people know our heart. The people know the challenges we faced in terms of Irma when we first came in. We were challenged with Hurricane Irma. We were the first government to have embarked on an air evacuation from the south to ensure that there were no deaths during that hurricane and in spite of that, an economic programme continued to move forward. Then we were challenged with Dorian and in spite of that we continued to move forward.
“And now we’re plagued with COVID and the entire world is plagued with COVID and in spite of that we continue to focus our concentration on building a better Bahamas and preparing The Bahamas for the future.”
This is the first time Dr Minnis has spoken of the allegations since they surfaced last week. He spoke to reporters following a grant ceremony by the Small Business Development Centre at the Gladstone Road Freight Terminal.
Pressure mounted on Mr Turnquest over the weekend from members of the Progressive Liberal Party who demanded answers from the government.
“…The accusations of a conspiracy to defraud a foreign investor of $20m have been in the public domain since 19 November 2020. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Free National Movement chairman has had a word to say in the deputy prime minister’s defence,” PLP leader Philip Davis said in a statement.
“It is time to hear from the Prime Minister from the comfort of his beach holiday in San Salvador,” Mr Davis continued, as he took a swipe at the Prime Minister heading to San Salvador for the weekend. “Silence suggests that the Deputy Prime Minister does not have the Prime Minister’s support. We demand answers.”
Former State Legal Affairs Minister Damien Gomez, QC, called on the DPM to resign as he felt the accusations of fraud have implications for The Bahamas.
“Surely, the government should at the very least make a public assurance that its relevant agencies have become engaged and that they are each performing their legal duties, including contacting the US Justice Department to ascertain what accounting evidence it or any other government department (such as the IRS) might have to assist our local functionaries in their investigation and making a similar request of the principal of the companies that have made these most serious allegations,” Mr Gomez also said.
Mr Gomez said this is not a matter that can be compromised, and the public has every right to expect the investigation to be transparent and fair to both the accused and the accusers.
Last Thursday, Mr Turnquest branded claims that he “conspired” to defraud Sky Bahamas’ financier of almost $27m via sham loans as “categorically false”.
The deputy prime minister hit back at allegations levied by two companies controlled by Fred Kaiser, a Canadian businessman with whom he had previously enjoyed a long and close relationship, by saying he was “appalled” that his name had been dragged into a dispute with another “former business partner”.
That business partner is Captain Randy Butler, chief executive of Sky Bahamas, which was forced to cease flying last year after the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority refused to renew the air operator certificate that was required to carry fee-paying passengers. Mr Turnquest, though, noted that he is not named as a defendant in Mr Kaiser’s statement of claim – only Captain Butler.
Implying that the dispute has nothing to do with him, Mr Turnquest said last week: “The writ does not name me as a defendant, but makes several allegations in its statement of claim that are categorically false.
“I deny these false claims. I am appalled that my standing as a public servant made calling my name in this dispute between my former business partners worthwhile. There is no room for that kind of misuse of our judicial system in our society. I am confident that the facts will defend my integrity once presented.”