Attorney General Huw Shepheard (L) and Premier Dr Rufus Ewing
In what has been described as an unprecedented move, Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) premier, Dr Rufus Ewing, has issued a summons in the Supreme Court against the territory’s attorney general, Huw Shepheard.
The summons, filed in Ewing’s name, asks the court to determine: "Whether on the true construction of the TCI Constitution Order 2011, or any other provisions of the constitution, the AG is authorised to institute and prosecute civil proceedings on behalf of the government of the TCI.
"And to defend proceedings brought against the government without informing Cabinet of his intention to institute and prosecute such proceedings; and without obtaining the prior approval of the Cabinet for the institution, prosecution or defence of such proceedings except where such proceedings involve matters on which the government is not required to consult and act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet.”
When questioned as to why he initiated the application in a personal capacity, Ewing said he did not want to involve the Cabinet in the matter, notwithstanding that it is the relationship between the Cabinet and the attorney general that is the subject of the action.
A statement issued by the leader of the opposition Sharlene Cartwright Robinson was critical of Ewing for wasting his and his ministers’ time trying to attack Shepheard.
Cartwright Robinson asserts that this latest legal filing is as a result of Shepheard’s action to recover possession of Crown land on which Ewing’s Progressive National Party (PNP) “squatted” for its headquarters building.
The opposition leader said that Ewing must realize his role as premier and head of government must not be confused with heading the PNP.
The Ewing-led government has been criticized by residents and voters, including supporters of all three political parties, for its inaction and failure to conduct parliamentary sessions that could lead to an improvement in living conditions for islanders.
The law suit by Ewing may be the subject of a meeting with the current director of British overseas territories, Peter Hayes, who is due to visit the TCI next week, since any decision by the TCI Supreme Court could affect all overseas territories.
The latest move by Ewing is widely perceived to be yet another attempt to exert political control over what is constitutionally a non-political and non-partisan office, with the ultimate aim to forestall the ongoing prosecution of former government ministers on corruption charges.
Four former ministers and some of their relatives, along with local attorneys and others, have been charged with various corruption-related offences including fraud and money laundering and are expected to stand trial in July 2014.
Ewing, who is a medical doctor with no known legal training or expertise, is thought to be guided in bringing the action by his attorneys of record Misick and Stanbrook, headed by Ariel Misick QC, the brother of disgraced former premier Michael Misick.
The firm itself was recently in the news when one of its senior partners, Gordon Kerr, was charged with cheating the revenue
of millions of dollars in stamp duty.
Prior to that, the firm figured prominently in a report that some $1.65 million was allegedly diverted from accounts belonging to Sandals/Beaches resorts group into the hands of the PNP and Michael Misick, using his brothers’ firms.
According to the report
, the funds after arriving in the TCI were divided between the law firms of Misick and Stanbrook; Chalmers and Company, headed by Chalmers ‘Chal’ Misick; and Prestigious Properties headed by Washington Misick.
One million dollars of the funds from Sandals was reportedly used to pay debts and obligations of Michael Misick himself.
In the case of Prestigious Properties, an examination of the firm’s files reportedly revealed handwritten notes redirecting the funds to the personal accounts of Michael Misick, now under arrest in Brazil pending extradition to the TCI to answer questions concerning alleged malfeasance while in office.
Although not thus far specifically connected to the alleged diversion of funds, the TCI government later reached an agreement with the Sandals Group and its directors and officers in relation to ongoing investigations by the special investigation and prosecution team (SIPT) that involved a payment by Sandals of US$12 million to the government.
Current finance minister, Washington Misick, last month called for a withdrawal of funding for the SIPT
, which was also perceived locally as self serving and likely prompted by the possibility that current ministers may have something to hide for which they could be charged, including an as yet unresolved report concerning alleged “land flips” by Ewing himself.
Meanwhile, according to the SIPT, the extradition process for returning Michael Misick from Brazil to the TCI to face questioning and possible prosecution is in full swing and may come to a conclusion as early as the end of next month.
However, well connected sources have indicated that a greatly increased level of diplomatic traffic regarding Misick has recently been noted between London and Brazil, leading to speculation that the increased “chatter” may indicate anticipation that his extradition is imminent or, alternatively, consternation that the Brazilians may be revisiting and possibly granting his application for political asylum, which has already been denied twice.
It is understood that at least one agency in the US is also interested in Misick or, perhaps more accurately, what and who he knows.