Front Porch | Checkered history of unsavory foreign characters
This column is an amalgam of columns previously published in this journal.
Like the days of piracy and wrecking, the PLP has a particular talent for fleecing foreigners, who in turn compromise the integrity and good name of The Bahamas. The equation is the pursuit of power in order to pursue frenzied financial gain by merchants of greed and entitlement.
This often involves an eccentric, highly controversial foreigner using The Bahamas as a base of activities and seeking to expand influence in the country, who claims to donate millions to the PLP for an election campaign, while pressing for all manner of privileges.
Why do so many more of these characters flock to the PLP, like moths to a flame? It has to do with the party’s history, with former Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling and his coterie of the compromised having fuelled and encouraged such a party culture.
Back when, there was Mike McLaney beseeching a casino licence, which was faithfully promised to him by Sir Lynden were the PLP to win office. Having given the party electoral support which, according to a New York Times story, included “cash, aircraft, boats, and a campaign headquarters on Bay Street”, McLaney eagerly anticipated a license.
Though having described the PLP as being in his “ass pocket”, relations soured between Sir Lynden and McLaney as the latter’s reputation became better known. Sir Lynden eventually refused to meet with McLaney, who was subsequently labelled as an undesirable by a commission of inquiry.
Milked and bilked, McLaney left town broke, without a license. At the inquiry there was a discrepancy in the competing testimonies of the amount McLaney said he donated to the PLP, and the amount Sir Lynden said he received. Sounds familiar?
Then, there was the fugitive U.S. financier Robert Vesco. Vesco fled the U.S. in 1973, the year of Bahamas independence, to escape a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation concerning an alleged massive fraud by the financier estimated today at more than $1 billion.
He crisscrossed the region, finding governments that would give him protection from U.S. authorities, even allegedly attempting to purchase Barbuda from Antigua in order to make the former an autonomous country. A 2008 obituary of Vesco in the UK’s Guardian observed: “Vesco had cosied up to Nixon’s [U.S. President Richard Nixon] two brothers and employed his nephew Donald. [As] well, he found ways to reach Bahamas Prime Minister Lynden Pindling and Costa Rican President José Figueres via strategic loans, donations or investments.”
Pindling’s PLP appeared particularly disposed to strategic loans, donations and purported investments from certain parties, domestic and foreign.
Among the worst were foreign drug lords, who seemingly had near carte blanche from the Pindling-led PLP government during the 1970s and 80s, making The Bahamas a “Nation for Sale”, a ruinous period from which we have still not recovered.
There is a genesis of the culture of corruption within the PLP, and the proximate genesis of the very same culture in the public sphere.
In a series of special reports in The Miami Herald titled, “A Nation for Sale: Corruption in The Bahamas” Carl Hiaasen and Jim McGee chronicled the destructive descent of The Bahamas into the corrosive drug era of the 1970s and 1980s.
The Miami Herald reported: “During the past 12 years, foreign investors in The Bahamas channeled nearly $17 million to Bahamas Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling or to companies in which he had a secret interest, records show.
“The money took various forms: gifts, unorthodox bank loans, direct payments to Pindling creditors, unusual stock deals or generous home mortgages.
“It came from businessmen who depended on the goodwill of the Pindling government, sought approval of government-regulated ventures or contemplated investments in The Bahamas.
“The largest chunk, $14 million, came from a Bahamian bank controlled by fugitive financier Robert Vesco. The bank financed companies in which Pindling had an undisclosed one-third interest.”
The Miami Herald special continued: “Since 1977 Pindling spent $4 million – eight times his reported total earnings during that time according to a Bahamas Commission of Inquiry…
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars contributed by foreign businessmen went for the construction of Pindling’s new house, a lavish lakefront home east of Nassau that his attorney says is worth $3 million.”
During former Prime Minister Perry Christie’s leadership of the PLP, there was the likes of Iranian businessman Mohammed Harajchi, who desperately wanted the restoration of a bank licence from the PLP, but which was never granted. Harajchi claimed that he gave a substantial sum to the PLP for the 2002 general election.
In response to Harajchi’s claims, Christie made one of those solemn, passionate and supposedly high-principled declarations for which he was famous:
“My party is presently conducting an accounting of monies received from Mr. Harajchi but I can state with complete confidence that Mr. Harajchi’s claim that it was $10 million is an absolute lie. It was nowhere near this amount. It was but a fraction of this amount. Details of our accounting will be made public once completed.
“Ordinarily we would not disclose the source of campaign contributions but as Mr. Harajchi has made this a public issue we are obliged to present the detailed facts concerning his contributions as indeed we will do as soon as possible.”
This promise was made by Christie on August 12, 2004, 16 years ago. It follows a pattern: A heated denial, a promise of full accountability, followed by absolutely nothing. We still do not know how much money Mohammed Harajchi gave to the PLP.
And then there was the late Anna Nicole Smith, a B-rated celebrity and Playboy’s 1993 Playmate of the Year, to whom then Immigration Minister Shane Gibson gave special attention, personally handling and expediting her immigration request, going so far as to making a home delivery of a certain document.
Gibson resigned due to the controversy with Christie sitting next to him on television figuratively holding his hand in one of the more bizarre Cabinet resignation events in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
At a 40th anniversary independence event honoring young Bahamians, Christie used the event to pay glowing tribute to Peter Nygard while simultaneously pressing the government’s stem cell legislation.
The political optics worsened as a video went viral showing the maned and wizened septuagenarian injecting himself in the stomach followed by his gasp of pleasure as a group of younger athletes looked on incredulously.
There were questions about Nygard’s financial contributions to the PLP, as well as his and the government’s motivations for the stem cell legislation.
Many were left uneasy that the government’s message on stem cell research seemed driven overwhelmingly by profits and money, with considerably less regard for human well being.
The Nassau Guardian editorialized at the time: “In fact, the entire discussion in the public domain by both the government and interested physicians has centered solely on the lucrative ‘money’ to be made by providing stem cell treatments to high-risk patients which have not been adequately tested for safety and effectiveness. Not a word has been mentioned about the well being of the patient. Such emphasis on financial gain rather than patient welfare has not gone unnoticed.”
A certain history and deep-seated pattern of corruption is entrenched in the PLP. It is like a virus without a cure. Many wonder whether the party can rid itself of its worst excesses and vulnerability to unsavoury foreign characters who, over many decades, have poisoned the country at home while also poisoning our international reputation and standing.