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Ministry of Foreign Affairs ‘refutes erroneous and libellous statements by Watson Duke’ against PM

“[…] Mr Watson Duke may wish to withdraw his statement about investigation of the Prime Minister, which is erroneous, libellous and no doubt seeps from a well of ignorance of the interaction to which he referred and of matters of international engagement.

“[…] Mr Duke’s understanding of the situation and his information are faulty…”

The following statement, in response to allegations by Tobago House of Assembly (THA) deputy chief secretary Watson Duke, was submitted to Wired868 by the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs:

Photo: Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Senator Dr Amery Browne.

In an article dated 26th April 2022, Watson Duke, in his familiar display of disregard of facts, levelled unsubstantiated accusations against Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on matters of critical importance to Trinidad and Tobago. 

At the outset, Mr Duke may wish to withdraw his statement about investigation of the Prime Minister, which is erroneous, libellous and no doubt seeps from a well of ignorance of the interaction to which he referred and of matters of international engagement.

Prime Minister Rowley has been party to discussions with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the US House Financial Services Committee on De-Risking and Correspondent Banking since 2019. 

The Roundtable Discussion on De-Risking and Correspondent Banking held in Barbados on 20th April 2022 follows a series of high-level meetings between Caribbean Community (Caricom) and Congresswoman Waters, based on a decision of Caricom Heads of Government to address the issue with the European Union and with the United States of America.

The facts of the Prime Minister’s active and responsible advocacy on this matter have been public.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) shares a laugh with then US vice-president Joe Biden during the US Caribbean-Central American Energy Summit at the State Department in Washington on 4 May 2016.
(Copyright AP Photo/ Alex Brandon)

It would be recalled that the Prime Minister met with Congresswoman Waters during a visit to Washington DC in 2019 when the harmful impact on our region of de-risking and correspondent banking was raised by the Prime Minister. This engagement was one of the important interactions between the two sides for the fostering of agreement on the part of the US to review the issues surrounding the matter.

Further, during Trinidad and Tobago’s chairmanship of Caricom, the Prime Minister held a meeting with Congresswoman Waters in March 2021, where de-risking and correspondent banking was the priority, with the Prime Minister representing the views of the Region on the matter.

Due, in part, to the Prime Minister’s active involvement in treating with this regional issue since 2019, the Prime Minister was invited to the Roundtable in Bridgetown by the Prime Minister of Barbados. The Roundtable was co-chaired by Congresswoman Waters and was attended by other invited Caricom Heads of Government, Members of the US House of Representatives and senior representatives of several US and Canadian Banks with which Caribbean countries have a relationship.

Photo: Congresswoman Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the US House Financial Services Committee on De-Risking and Correspondent Banking.
(Copyright Alex Wong/ Getty Images)

At the Roundtable, it was acknowledged widely that the region was being targeted for the perceived risk of doing business rather than actual evidenced risk. The meeting resulted in, inter alia, the following outcomes which are beneficial to the Region and Trinidad and Tobago:-

  • Agreement on a US Congressional Hearing on the impact of De-risking and Correspondent Banking;
  • The creation of an annual Caribbean-US Banking Forum;
  • Proposal to pursue a feasibility study for a pilot project for a Consortium Bank Model; and
  • Proposal to develop an Examiner Training Academy in the US.

Mr Duke’s statement of 26 April 2022 coincides with the official visit of the Honourable Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago to Washington DC to discuss issues of critical importance to Trinidad and Tobago, including de-risking and correspondent banking.

In fact, the Prime Minister’s encounters in Washington DC include scheduled meetings with Congressman Bennie G Thompson, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security; Congresswoman Waters; the Honourable Timothy M Kaine, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues; and Brian Nelson, under secretary of the Treasury. 

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks at the World Leaders Summit on Climate Change in Glasgow, Scotland on 2 November 2021.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

The Prime Minister is also expected to participate in a meeting with the Vice-President of the United States of America.

How does such consistent high-level engagement, pursued by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, translate into a ‘lack of enthusiasm from the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago to cooperate with the United States’?

Further, Mr Duke’s call for the establishment of a committee to address these issues is unnecessary, given that the multi-stakeholder Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorist Financing (AML/CFT) Committee of Trinidad and Tobago is already in existence.

The work of this high-level committee (HLC) had been instrumental in having Trinidad and Tobago removed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) from its list of jurisdictions requiring increased monitoring as a result of strategic deficiencies in their regimes to combat money laundering, terrorist financing and proliferation financing.

Again Mr Duke’s understanding of the situation and his information are faulty.

Photo: THA deputy chief secretary Watson Duke.

In addition to the formation of the HLC, Trinidad and Tobago has significantly strengthened the legislative framework and has passed within the past years, inter alia:

  • The Amendment to the Proceeds of Crime Act
  • The Amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act
  • The Amendment to the Companies Act
  • The Amendment to the Income Tax Act
  • The Civil Asset Recovery, Management and Unexplained Wealth Act
  • The Non-Profit Organisations Act
  • The Economic Sanction Orders
  • The Miscellaneous Provisions (FATF Compliance) Act
  • The Real Estate Act
  • The Gambling (Gaming and Betting) Control Act

Mr Duke should perhaps expend his energies on becoming acquainted with factual information, given his obvious pursuit of relevance on the wider Trinidad and Tobago political landscape.

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