Front Page
September 24, 2004

By Dexter Rose

As CEO of the company Alternative Market Exchange Robert Browne had become a regular on the cocktail circuit here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Now he is enjoying less pleasant company.
Following close collaboration between the local Financial Intelligence Unit and US agents, the 58 year-old, who carries the alias Robert Lewis Browne is no longer hobnobbing among businessmen these days. {{more}}
The Metropolitan Fugitive Squad in Toronto, Canada arrested Browne last Thursday on both immigration charges and a United States arrest warrant. A US embassy release said Browne was being sought internationally as a fugitive in connection with an alleged US$20 million global insurance fraud. This fraud had been operating from right here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines out of offices in the Marcole Plaza building in Kingstown.
The embassy release said that Browne’s name was fake, having been assumed a decade ago from another man of the same age who died three years ago in Las Vegas, USA. But not only was Browne’s name fake, the release also says that Browne’s wife, who has not been charged is also believed to be using an assumed name, that of the dead Shirley Darlene Whitaker.
For the local Financial Intelligence Unit, this is proof of the good work that they have been doing away from the glare of public scrutiny since its foundation. And Legal Officer Carla James explained that this is one of the cases where the FIU has been collaborating with the United States authorities under the terms of the Treaty covering Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. This treaty was established and signed on January 8th 1998. It spells out in part that assistance under this treaty includes: taking of testimony or statements; providing documents, records and articles of evidence; serving documents, locating or identifying persons; transferring persons in custody for testimony; executing requests for searches and seizures and assisting in proceedings related to immobilisation and forfeiture of assets among others.
It was thus that the FIU here, along with their international partners, the International Finance Service Authority (IFSA) and the local police had been monitoring the operations of Browne’s Alternative Market Exchange and co-ordinating with United States investigators with whom they had been exchanging information. This resulted in the FIU, US Agents and Investigators closing in on Browne’s operation at the Marcole Plaza where and investigator from the IRS Electronic Crimes Programme seizing computers and documents.
As James at the FIU expressed this week, it was a pity that local employees may have been affected. The fraudulent operations employed some 16 Vincentians here who may now be on the breadline.
FIU Legal Officer James said that in early September there was a suspicious activity report from the IFSA which had received complaints from the US that Browne had been using two of his companies Tri-Continental Exchange Ltd and Combined Services to conduct fraudulent insurance business.
In fact the US Embassy release said that this resulted in $20 million in premiums being creamed off unsuspecting customers throughout the United States “for insurance policies they falsely claimed were backed by a collection of real insurance companies.”
Browne also set up offshore insurance companies on Nevis in the Leeward Islands even though he has been living it up “in his estates in Ireland and Barbados” most recently.
Browne’s operations had customers send payments to post office boxes in Phoenix Arizona. But the money was first sent to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, then to a bank account in yet another US State, Blaine in Washington with some of the money according to the Embassy release “siphoned off to foreign bank accounts.
This arrest is good news for the local FIU, which has been eager to gain respect for its work. And in fact, according to the head of the FIU Sharda Bollers, the work that her unit has been doing has been widely commended. The US investigators have given kudos to the local unit for their “close professional co-operation.” Browne’s bank accounts here have been frozen, while extradition is being sought. This comes against the background of this country having been placed on an international blacklist in 2000 by the Financial Action Task Force from which St. Vincent and the Grenadines was removed only in July of 2003.