By Horace Mills, BVI News Online Staff
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) government is facing renewed pressure to disclose the names of shareholders in the airline into which it has invested $7 million; this amid fresh claims that the said airline is involved in dubious activities in the United States and the Commonwealth of Dominica.
Leader of the Opposition Andrew Fahie yesterday claimed that operators of the privately owned BVI Airways and the Dominican government are involved in debt negotiations, which involve recently acquired planes in which the BVI government has an interest.
“My intelligence tells me that these same characters [involved in BVI Airways] are down in Dominica trying to negotiate with Dominica with our planes. That’s one of the privileges as Leader of the Opposition; you get calls from the Caribbean now. With our planes! But of course this is going to be denied, because I am speaking it now to hopefully stop it. I asked [the informant], ‘what they (BVI Airways representatives) doing down there’? They (the informants) said, ‘they owe us money too.”
“So they owe the Dominican government where they used to fly and they ain’t pay them neither; and them still owe us (BVI government). They owe us and we give them $7 million,” Fahie further lamented during his contribution to the 2017 Budget Debate in the House of Assembly yesterday, February 28.
He also chided the government for ‘bending the rules’ to accommodate BVI Airways, which is owned by foreigners. According to Fahie, the government headed by Premier Dr D Orlando Smith would not have done the same favour for a local company that owes the government money.
“What [local] contractor could owe the government and don’t pay money in to help us with this budget and get a next contract? Forget the contract. How they (the local contractors) going to get the good [standing] certificate? They can’t get it. This is what I am talking about. When we bending the rules to help outside investors over our people – this is a clear indication of it,” Fahie added.
Airline sells shares in US
The lawmaker went on to claim that BVI Airways, which is now seeking approval to fly into the United States, is involved in insider trading in the United States.
Insider trading is the illegal practice of trading on the stock exchange to one’s own advantage through having access to confidential information.
Fahie argued: “Ten shares have been sold out of this company (BVI Airways) up in the American market. I could say it with confidence. But I can’t tell who in some of these companies because five of them are companies and five of them are individuals…”
“Why would you sell shares in something like that that hasn’t even taken off? In America, that’s called insider trading. And we know what has happened with insider trading… We need to know who all of the shareholders involved in the plane that we are investing in. It is the people’s money. I could put my life on the line that it has 10 shareholders; and I won’t take my life lightly,” Fahie further told the House.
Airline also gets office free
The legislator, who said he has no personal grudge against BVI Airways, again challenged the government to say how the BVI will benefit from its $7 million investment in the said airline.
He argued that, based on the contract, the airline is not even paying for the office it occupies in the BVI.
“In the agreement also, it states that even if we want to deal with other States, we jammed to deal with BVI Airways. This is one time I would like to see President Trump deal with whoever it is that advise and sign on that one,” Fahie said.
“In the document for BVI Airways, it is clear that they are not paying anything – landing fees, office fees, or no kind of fees. If anybody could read where they are paying and tell me that it is not so, stop me now. I will pause and give you a chance on a point of order or a point of information.”
When no member of the House rose to refute the claims made, the Leader of the Opposition continued: “So they (BVI Airways operators) are not paying anything in to the government; even the office fees they aren’t paying…. What we getting out of this deal? And, if we are going to get something out of it, why are we cutting it short to build an airport longer [to accommodate other competing airlines]. It has to be one or the other.”
The government has stated that its investment in BVI Airways is to help address the long-standing issue of airlift, but Fahie thinks there were better options than investing in the said carrier.
“We could have improved that (airlift) many ways; we could have worked with the local VI Airlink; we could have worked with some other airlines,” added Fahie.
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