PM says he was accosted by US diplomat over Chatham Bay
November 22, 2013
PM says he was accosted by US diplomat over Chatham Bay

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves says in 2007, he was confronted by high-level United States diplomats about lands at Chatham Bay, Union Island, that the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines was seeking to have forfeited.{{more}}

On November 14, 2013, the Privy Council accepted an application by Chatham Bay Club Ltd and Chatham Bay Development Corporation Ltd (the Chatham Bay Companies) to withdraw their appeal, allowing the more than 100 acres of land to be forfeited, and the companies to be reimbursed the EC $477,000 purchase price of the lands, plus interest.

On Monday, at a press conference at Cabinet Room, called to announce the Privy Council’s ruling, Gonsalves said after the parade to mark this country’s 28th anniversary of independence, he was waylaid by the then United States Ambassador and two Foreign Service officers, following the Commissioner of Police’s gala at the Old Montrose Police Station on October 27, 2007.

The US Ambassador to the OECS and Barbados at that time was Mary Ourisman.

The Prime Minister said that he was accused by the ambassador of confiscating the lands from the Chatham Bay companies that had purchased the beachfront pro­per­ty in 1987 from another American citizen, Michael Leslie Paul Badham.

“Soon as the event was finished and I was getting ready to leave, the Ameri­can ambassador buttonhole me; I didn’t get any previous notice, like a veritable am­bush,” Gonsalves recounted.

“She said ‘Prime Minister, I want to speak to you about an important matter’. I said ‘sure your Excellency’, and we walked through the compound, accompanied by the two foreign service officers.

“She said to me ‘the lands at Chatham Bay, which your government has expropriated… I have been asked by the State Department to complain about the expropriation….’”

Gonsalves said Ourisman informed him that the American citizens who owned the land had complained to their senators and congressmen in the US, who in turn complained to the US State Department, and instructed her to discuss the matter with him.

He said Ourisman told him that they wanted the court matter stopped and land returned to the investors, or the government should pay what was considered the current market value to the investors.

By this time, the Chatham Bay companies had already appealed to the East Caribbean Court of Appeal against the ruling of the High Court, which ordered that the lands be forfeited to the government.

“Well, I will tell you this…. The Chatham Bay companies had told [their lawyer] Parnell [Campbell QC] to put to me that they will accept US$20 million.

“Remember I tell you, EC$477,000 is just US$176,000, but they ain’t do nothing for 19 years, but they want 20 million dollars.

“PR (Campbell) say the number was so big that he didn’t want to tell me. I say ‘well if you had told me I would have responded to you to tell your clients to go to hell.’”

Gonsalves said he told the diplomats that the land was not confiscated, and informed them of the Alien Landholding Regulation Act that allows the government to claim forfeiture of the lands, if not used for the agreed purpose at a given time.

“Interestingly, the most aggressive towards me of the three American diplomats was the Jamaican-American,” Gonsalves pointed out.

“I don’t want to tell you some things they said. Is the young Foreign Service officer had to calm him down a little and tell him that what I said about the law is quite correct; it’s not expropriation. But he, nevertheless, said that it is in the hands of the government to be flexible on the issue, given the fact that the American government has raised the matter.

“I said that you’re raising the matter on the wrong premise. And we are flexible, that Is why I say I will pay them the $477,000 and give them interest to be agreed upon. That’s where my flexibility is, not to take it for nothing.

“The Government and your Prime Minister, we stood our ground. We proceeded, they appealed, fair enough.”

In August 2010, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court, prompting the Chatham Bay Companies to take the matter to the Privy Council in July 2012.

The appellants subsequently withdrew their appeal before the Privy Council. (JJ)