Saint Lucia’s Tourism Minister Dr. Ernest Hilaire walked free with his head held high Thursday (December 2) out of a highly-politicized court case involving a vehicle he imported in 2016 after serving as the island’s High Commissioner in London.
But this is not the end of the story. Hilaire now plans to sue former Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and ex-Comptroller of Customs & Excise Peter Chiquot, who, he claims, were responsible for the trauma he suffered before and after the vehicle was seized – on Chiquot’s orders — in November 2020.
The case was filed under Chastanet’s watch as Prime Minister, way ahead of the July 2021 General Elections while Hilaire sat in parliament as an elected MP for Castries South.
The seizure of Hilaire’s vehicle featured all the embellishments of a political campaign by the then ruling party and government to, at the very least, publicly embarrass him and the Saint Lucia Labour Party of which Hilaire was deputy leader.
Highlights of the case included the impounding of the Land Rover Sport vehicle by the Customs & Excise Department, claiming Hilaire failed to provide the documents requested.
As the 2021 General Elections approached, the UWP’s related propaganda hype heightened, but the embattled MP requested and was granted mediation by the courts, which was postponed to a period after the general elections.
The mediation resumed on Wednesday (December 1) and concluded in Hilaire’s favor, with the new Acting Customs Comptroller saying – like two others before — the seizure and charges were unnecessary. By Thursday morning (December 2), based on the mediation results, the Crown Prosecution withdrew all charges against Hilaire.
Addressing reporters outside the courthouse thereafter, Hilaire said the matter was “a wicked abuse of public office” against him by former Prime Minister Chastanet, also claiming Chiquot was “merely used as a pawn, albeit a willful one.”
He told the press, “For me, the case against Chiquot and the case against Chastanet is more important than even getting the vehicle back. The vehicle is just a vehicle, even though I haven’t had it for one year.”
“The deeper issue,” he added, “is what Chiquot and Chastanet did: malfeasance in public office.”
According to Hilaire, “Chastanet abused his office as prime minister to go after a political opponent to discredit him, to try and destroy his character locally, regionally, internationally.” He also said, “Chiquot participated in that knowing that what he was doing was wrong.”
The Customs Department is due to return the vehicle on Friday (December 3) and compensation will be negotiated by the lawyers for both sides.
However, Hilaire has not yet confirmed if and when he’ll sue and for what.