Castries, Saint Lucia, Tuesday, October 5, 2021:– Will former Attorney General Stephen Julien explain how and why his office vetted a COVID vaccine purchase deal that went so radically wrong for Saint Lucia? And when?
These are only two of the questions on the minds of reporters eagerly hoping for any explanation this week from the former Attorney General, about why he vetted the controversial multi-million-dollar Cabinet-approved, third-party and private vaccine-purchase deal that’s also turned out to be a costly national embarrassment.
Former Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Allen Chastanet, under fire for approving the deal with insufficient Due Diligence, last week fingered Julien as having “vetted” the agreement that saw EC $7.3 million (US $2.69 million) of taxpayers’ money almost go up in smoke.
Back home from a two-months-long post-election holiday abroad, Chastanet summoned the press to an online conference last Thursday (September 30), during which he said (of the botched deal): “The entire process was vetted by the Attorney General’s Office and the procurement process was gone through within the government.”
He did not identify which department “within the government” or when the then AG “vetted” the proposed deal.
But the agreement with Radical Investments – an international business company (IBC) registered in Saint Lucia and operating out of Barbados – turned sour, as the company was unable to deliver the 100,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines that Saint Lucia had paid for in advance.
Chastanet told the nation earlier this year (as Prime Minister and Minister for Finance after the deal was approved by Cabinet and facilitated by the Director of Finance) the deal also involved two other unidentified countries.
But it’s also turned out that Saint Lucia was the only country to have paid up-front.
Barbados press reports indicated the Mia Mottley administration had carefully arranged to pay for its 300,000 vaccines only upon delivery.
And The Bahamas, which the remaining 600,00 would have been earmarked for, would also say it was never part of the deal.
According to the reports, Radical Investments had arranged to source the vaccines as part of an alleged compulsory and conditional million-dose minimum purchase.
But Good Vibrations Entertainment — the US-based company paid by Radical Investments to source the vaccines – was unable to deliver on time, claiming (among other things) the suppliers were overwhelmed with larger deliveries of earlier orders.
Subsequent investigations by Radical Investments (into the reasons offered by Good Vibrations for the repeated delays) revealed Good Vibrations Entertainment was not being truthful and was indeed unable to source the vaccines directly as a third-party agent, as Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine deliveries are only directly to governments.
Radical Investments eventually filed a law suit against Good Vibrations Entertainment in a Fort Lauderdale, Florida court, seeking damages and a return of some US $10.2 million allegedly paid (by Radical Investments) for the undelivered million vaccine doses.
But despite Saint Lucia being left holding the empty bag in the botched deal, the ex-Prime Minister maintains he had good reason to place his confidence and trust in the main man behind the deal and in-the-middle of it all, Barbadian and Caribbean investor Mark Maloney.
Maloney, in whose name Radical Investments is registered in Saint Lucia and who’s behind gthe financing of the proposed vaccine investment, has also reportedly filed a personal action against Good Vibrations in the same Florida court, its principals and agents in the US and Barbados.
Maloney is also the principal owner of Rock Hard Cement, a regional company also operating in Saint Lucia, as well as an acknowledged family friend of the ex-prime minister.
The internecine family and business network linking Maloney and the ex-PM is deep and Chastanet has been telling the press that despite all that’s gone down, he remains full- confident in Maloney.
Addressing the reporters online last week, Chastanet sought to put the botched deal “in context”.
He said at the time he took-up the invitation by Maloney and Radical Investments to participate in and contribute to the alleged “minimum purchase” of a million vaccines, the UK, the USA, Canada and India had all informed they could not assist with his requests for free vaccine donations.
Chastanet also pleaded Not Guilty to the charge that he didn’t insist on enough Due Diligence.
He said Due Diligence been undertaken “within the government” and the deal “vetted by the Attorney General” and confirmed his overwhelming support for the proposed deal was heavily influenced, not only by the participation of two other countries, but also his own personal trust in Maloney.
Chastanet admitted being aware at the time, as PM and Finance Minister, that it was not possible for private companies to directly purchase the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines his administration ordered and paid for in advance.
But again, he’d trusted Maloney all along…
Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre said two weeks ago the island’s $7.3 million payment had virtually disappeared in the melee, but later his Press Secretary, Maundy Lewis, would disclose he’d been assured that Saint Lucia’s $7.3 million would be returned.
Lewis would also later indicate that US $1 million (EC $2.71 million) had indeed been repaid on the $7.3 million (US $2.69 million), but not exactly by who.
With the benefit of hindsight, Chastanet would also now belatedly argue that even though the original vaccine purchase deal went radically bad, the fact that the $7.3 million is reportedly on the way to being repaid somehow absolves him from blame — and justifies his continuing confidence in Maloney.
Chastanet told the press: “I was satisfied that Mr Maloney, who headed-up Radical Investments, was not an unknown entity, but an established businessman in Barbados who had done business in Saint Lucia — and more importantly, (who also) owns assets in Saint Lucia…
“I was also satisfied that the contract we had put in place [with Maloney and Radical Investments] would have covered Saint Lucia…
“So that, if at any time things went wrong, I knew that the government would have had a recourse…”
The ex-Prime Minister and Finance Minister said he’s also quite happy about “the fact that that they [Radical Investments and Maloney] have started reimbursing Saint Lucia…”
According to Chastanet, “I am very happy to know that the faith I had in Mr Maloney and in Radical (Investments) were well-founded…”
Meanwhile, with the ex-PM having virtually cleared Maloney of allegations of impropriety, all eyes and ears are now on the ex-AG.
Former Attorney General Julien has not yet publicly responded to the former prime minister’s open claim that “the entire process was vetted” by his then office.
But there’s much hope, even expectation, at least among reporters who attended or followed the ex-PM’s press conference last week, that the ex-AG will explain, sooner than later, how and why his office could have vetted a vaccine deal that went so radically wrong for the nation – and the Treasury