February 26, 2010
Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace clears his name

Fugitive banker and hotelier Thierry Nano, who went into hiding back in November 2001, in a report, has accused Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace of failing to repay a debt of US$320,000 to one of his banks.{{more}}

But in the latest twist to the saga, Eustace has repeated his denials of the allegations, calling the claim “bizarre” and “blackmail”.

The matter was dormant during the last few years, but on Sunday, February 21, 2010, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, in a scathing attack on Eustace’s leadership, brought the issue up again. This time precise figures were presented.

“I have seen a document filed by New Bank Limited owned by Nano, Thierry Nano, where he said in his report of September 2001 that you (Eustace) borrowed US$320,000 with the security of a promissory note,” stated Gonsalves, noting that the information is filed in a formal document lodged at the Offshore Finance Authority.

“Is that true? Did you in fact borrow some money? Did you in fact give such security?” said Gonsalves, directing his questions to Eustace from the podium of the Unity Labour Party’s 16th National Convention.

On August 24, 2000, four days after he was elected Political Leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) and a mere two months before he became Prime Minister, representatives of New Bank Limited, namely, Silma Jacobs of Arnos Vale and Tyrone Creese of Prospect, wrote a letter to Eustace, demanding that he repay monies which he had borrowed from the bank.

Responding to the allegations last Monday, Eustace told Vincentians he was shocked when he first received the letter on August 25, 2000. He noted that amidst the allegation, the Nanos in the letter never stated how much he had owed.

The letters he was reading from, on what transpired at the time, were being made public for the first time said Eustace.

“I have to make sure that my name is clear in this matter,” he said on his Party’s New Times radio programme.

A press conference refuting all of the claims was called within an hour of him receiving the letter, said Eustace, adding that a response was also sent to the bank on that day.

Eustace claimed he wrote the bank and bluntly stated that its request was bizarre since he had never sought or received any loans or advances from the institution, nor any other entity or individual connected with New Bank Limited and therefore cannot be conceivably be indebted to the bank.

“I am only left to speculate that your motives for sending such a letter relate to the recent revocation of your banks licenses,” Eustace said the letter stated. The bank’s licenses were revoked because it had violated the law, he noted. The Nanos were informed of the state’s action by a letter written on July 13, 2000, by Offshore Finance Inspector Linton Lewis.

Eustace said at the time, he requested a full retraction of the allegations and an explanation of its issuance.

His lawyers Commissiong and Commissiong and Equity Chambers on August 29, 2000, wrote the Commissioner of Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions, to make a formal complaint. The authorities were told to investigate the issue because it amounted to blackmail.

Eustace’s lawyers also told the police New Bank Limited was intent on making a gain for the bank, and lower their client in the opinion of Vincentians.

“I would really have to be a stupid person if I had taken money from these people and then as Minister of Finance agreed to the revocation of their licenses. I would have to be a stupid person to do something like that,” said Eustace.

He said he later gave a statement to the police dated September 25, 2000. Eustace said he told the police from the time he became the country’s Minister of Finance, several invitations were extended to him to visit New Bank Limited.

“I have never accepted a single one of those invitations,” said Eustace.

“They seem to have been annoyed by this, for they complained to the prime minister that I do not accept their invitations and I do not as Minister of Finance visit their bank,” said Eustace.

Eustace disclosed that he only spoke to Thierry Nano once in 1998, at the Jaycees Building when Nano and his wife approached him at the Annual Dinner of the National Commercial Bank.

“I didn’t at the time know them, who they were, until they introduced themselves to me,” said Eustace.

Interestingly, at the time the scandal broke, Gonsalves said he would choose Eustace’s words over Nano’s words.

Eustace on Monday, however, said that Prime Minister Gonsalves wants to divert attention from the US$1 million dollar issue.