Minnis challenging PM over Customs probe into ‘high ups’

• Claims investigation findings ‘swept under table’

• ‘Senior officials’ on video over beer, contraband

• Ex-PM resumes attacks on JDL air freight deal


Tribune Business Editor


Dr Hubert Minnis last night challenged the Prime Minister to reveal the findings of a probe into alleged smuggling involving senior Customs and Finance officials which has been “swept under the table”.

The former prime minister, in his contribution to the 2024-2025 Budget debate in the House of Assembly, asserted that a witness had implicated “high ups” in the Ministry of Finance and Customs Department for “facilitating” the importation of more than $567,000 in Budweiser beer “and other contraband” discovered in 16 shipping containers.

Signalling that he knows the identities of those officials involved, but chose not to reveal them, Dr Minnis said: “I await the report from the Ministry of Finance with respect to 16 containers that were brought into this country presumably by some Sean McKenzie.

“When the investigation occurred, one of the individuals questioned, his exact words, Mr deputy [speaker], which I move to state for the record, he indicated there were high-ups involved in the facilitation of these containers in the Ministry of Finance and Bahamas Customs Department.

“When we get the official investigation report, who are these high officials in Customs? Who are these high officials in the Ministry of Finance? The investigation is finished but swept under the table. We need to know about the findings of the investigation,” the ex-prime minister continued.

“There are videos of Ministry of Finance personnel in a Kia car who went and was there on tape, and there for minutes, but no Customs officer was doing their job. Do we know what was in the containers? Items... Alcohol. I don’t drink. These items: Bud. I don’t drink, but but $567,432 of Bud beer and other contraband. Where is the report?”

Dr Minnis, confirming that he knew the identities of the senior Ministry of Finance and Customs Department officials allegedly involved, did not reveal them as he issued a challenge to Philip Davis KC. He added: “I want the Prime Minister to tell us. That’s all for now. Mr Prime Minister, this is a matter that must be dealt with.”

The Killarney MP, whose bid to again become FNM leader was recently defeated by Michael Pintard, also resumed his attack on the outsourcing of the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) air freight terminal to JDL, a company headed by The Island Game web shop chain’s principal, Pete Deveaux.

Besides asserting that JDL has illegally “usurped” Customs authority under the Customs Management Act, Dr Minnis alleged that the variety of new charges and fees it has imposed on imported air freight is further fuelling Bahamian inflation and the cost of living crisis while also sending courier companies “out of business”.

Suggesting there had been no competitive bidding for the air freight terminal deal, the ex-prime minister said it was “very, very suspicious” that JDL had been awarded the $25m public-private partnership (PPP) when his administration had been investigating another deal involving Mr Deveaux and the Ministry of Finance prior to the 2021 general election.

That involved a $1.46m computer supply contract related to the roll-out of Customs’ Electronic Single Window that facilitates the online clearance of goods. The contract was awarded to Xua Company Ltd, an entity beneficially owned by Mr Deveaux and his wife, even though they appeared to have “no prior involvement in businesses relating to information technology or computer procurement”.

Dr Minnis, stating that Customs has the responsibility to protect The Bahamas’ borders and keep it safe from illegal/harmful goods and smuggling, said: “That responsibility has been usurped and a new company, JDL, has taken on Customs’ responsibilities in spite of the [Customs] Management Act and law that is very clear.

“This company was proposed in 2012-2013 to the then-prime minister, Perry Christie, who refused recognising the challenges it would bring forth to this nation. Now, every package coming into the freight terminal must first be held by this JDL entity and every package is charged 20 cents per pound.”

Pointing out that this is increasing the cost of imported goods just as the Prime Minister complains about inflation and the high cost of living, Dr Minnis added: “In addition to that, they [JDL] have no equipment other than a weight scale. I went and checked. That’s all they have.

“Packages in the bonded area before this were charged $4 per square foot. Now, this entity is charging $40 per square foot plus VAT. That must be paid for by consumers. You have a 20 cents charge plus VAT then a 40 cent charge plus VAT.”

Dr Minnis argued that JDL will pay for the equipment it requires by charging Bahamian consumers and importers “hundreds of thousands of dollars”. He added that JDL will, like Bahamas Customs, charge for overtime which he said amounts to “double dipping”.

“These things add only cost increases, and today couriers are going out of business because they cannot afford these charges,” Dr Minnis said. “Where is the contract? It was a ‘no bid’ contract. Mr deputy, I could go on and on.”

Simon Wilson, the Ministry of Finance’s financial secretary, previously defended the deal in revealing that the Government has been seeking a solution to the air freight terminal’s deterioration for ten years and, despite approaching multiple parties, was unable to find a PPP partner until JDL appeared.

He said last year: “We were looking for a solution and a Bahamian company came in and was willing to take on the risk for redeveloping the building for Customs purposes. We made no secret of it in the Budget. This is nothing new......

“It will make a massive investment, and the company is willing to do it. A review of the file will show that we have attempted to do this for at least the last seven years. We went far and wide, approached many persons to say: ‘Are you interested?’ There was no interest.

“This started seven to eight years ago when we thought we could use part of that building as an office for Nassau Flight Services (NFS). This is not just something that sprung up. We found one person willing to take the risk upfront. They’re taking the complete risk. If the volume of traffic is not there, they lose their money. Hopefully, this goes well for us. If it does, it will be a precursor for other things where the private sector takes on the risk.”

Dr Minnis, though, yesterday sought to link the JDL deal to an investigation into a contract awarded to Mr Deveaux just prior to the 2017 general election. A report on that probe was tabled in Parliament in December 2018 just prior to the disclosure of Mr Wilson’s legal action against the Government over the Minnis administration’s efforts to move him sideways to the Central Bank.

Mr Wilson was interviewed at length by that report’s author, FTI Consulting, which suggested that Mr Deveaux did little to earn his $455,000 gross profit since he and his wife merely acted as brokers in outsourcing the procurement of hundreds of desktop computers, monitors and laptops to a Florida company.

Their Xua Company Ltd, which handled the contract, was likely formed specifically to handle the computer equipment deal, given that it was incorporated on February 20, 2017 - less than two months before the deal’s signing, but after the meeting with Mr Wilson and an unnamed “elected official” - the latter of whom had recommended the award.

The report revealed that Xua Company was 213 days late in completing its contractual obligations, with the initial shipment “short” and incomplete, and many desktop computers lacking 50 percent of the promised memory capacity.

“This company is owned or managed by Pete Deveaux,” Dr Minnis said yesterday of JDL. “This is the same entity that, when I became prime minister, I had FTI Consulting investigate with respect to computers brought into this country.”

While JDL and Xua are separate corporate entities, the former prime minister continued: “They were working as middle man through Xua, and bringing in computers through this entity. FTI was brought in from New York, I think. The financial secretary [Mr Wilson] answered quite a few questions.

“There was no bidding process for how those computers were selected or which company would provide the computers. The same entity investigated by my government in 2018 is the same entity involved in JDL. That’s very, very suspicious and it’s adding to inflation. That must stop.” Again, Xua and JDL are separate entities, although they share a common owner in Mr Deveaux.





Porcupine says...

Uggg. When there is no vision, the people perish.
It seems we have no adults in the room.
Just money grubbing politicians and their cronies.
Sad that a nation with such promise.......................

Posted 13 June 2024, 8:08 a.m. Suggest removal

birdiestrachan says...

Doc take your information to the police. But they say you are a smooth liar ask them people who voted for Mr Pintard in the main time go pay that water bill instead of comming to the house with that lame story about people going to the pump in the dark.

Posted 15 June 2024, 7:53 p.m. Suggest removal

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