- JOHN’S, Antigua and Barbuda, October 31, 2017 (CMC) – Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, says he was aware of an investigation, involving his former Tourism and Investment Minister, Asot Michael, prior to his detention at the Gatwick Airport, last week, by British law enforcement authorities.
“…prior to his arrest (I) knew there was an issue in which there was an investigation involving him and, by the way, what I was told, it involves him soliciting contracts for a UK national.
“Now I could not have spoken, definitively, about what transpired with the arrest. He was actually detained or arrested…I believe, for about seven hours. So up to the point of firing him, I had not spoken to him, he himself confirmed that, so there is no way I could have given any detail, because I don’t have the details,” Browne said, on the local radio station, Point FM.
Last week, Prime Minister Browne described the investigation, involving his former minister as “a serious matter”, insisting that Michael “was actually arrested on a serious issue” in the United Kingdom.
Browne said that after he was briefed, orally, on the situation regarding the arrest, he immediately requested that law enforcement authorities in Britain submit the information, in writing, to Antigua and Barbuda’s High Commissioner to London, Karen Mae-Hill.
“I was told by the high commissioner that he was actually arrested on a serious issue…we were told it was not a frivolous arrest, that it was a serious matter, that the international police, INTERPOL and the metropolitan police [were] actually following.
“And, I also understand, that it included the local police as well. And, as a result of certain information they would have gathered, that is what led to this action,” Browne told radio listeners.
But Michael, who was due back here, later today, said in a statement, last week, that he was “sorry” that Prime Minister Browne had not contacted him, prior to making public his removal from the Cabinet.
Michael has since said that he has been advised by his lawyers not to make any further comment on the situation regarding his detention in the United Kingdom.
Prime Minister Browne said he is still awaiting a document from the British authorities, explaining why the National Crime Agency (NCA) took Michael into custody.
He said a file is probably in the possession of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) but that he does not have access to it.
He said Michael has been consulting with his lawyers in London since his arrest.
“This is a serious issue. I am quite sure he will have to fight this matter and we still hope for the best that he is not charged because, ultimately, it will create an issue for the country, in terms of the image of the country.
“But he has maintained his innocence. He has indicated that he has done nothing wrong,” Browne said, telling radio listeners “I could only communicate to the public, the little that I know”.
“I am not in a position to say I have details, I can’t even express an opinion,” Browne added.
On Sunday, former attorney general, Justin Simon, called on the Integrity Commission to launch a probe into the circumstances that led to the dismissal of the former tourism and investment minister.
“Within Antigua and Barbuda, this matter should not be allowed to simply die and for us to wait on whatever happens or unfolds in the U.K,” he said, noting that the Integrity Commission had the power to investigate matters without a complaint first being brought to its attention.