Nassau Guardian Stories
November 19, 2014
The automatic exchange of financial account information (AEOI) in tax matters is a significant step toward the elimination of bank secrecy in several jurisdictions. The project is gradually being implemented: on October 8 of this year, the Swiss Federal Council reported to international institutions its intention to introduce the global standard provided for by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) taking effect from 2017 for about 40 countries that have already formalized their position - these are the so-called "early adopters" - and from 2018 for the remaining countries. Recently, a Global Forum meeting in Berlin underlined the progress of the programme and its supposed effectiveness in fighting the "scourge" of tax evasion by natural and legal persons, in a coordinated manner at an international level.
The procedure is similar to that laid down by Washington in the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) agreements and, albeit in a different way, by the European Union Savings Directive. One of the differences between the standard and FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) is that, while for the latter the applicability criterion is U.S. nationality or, more specifically, the status of U.S. person for tax purposes, the key factor in the automatic exchange of information is the account holder's country of residence, regardless of nationality.
The program is based on the OECD Common Reporting Standard, i.e. the basic protocol which all participating countries should follow. In essence, tax authorities from the different countries are required to collect information from their financial institutions and report it to corresponding tax authorities. Financial intermediaries are therefore required to carry out extensive work concerning their customers and their financial transactions, and are also burdened with significant responsibility being sanctioned in the event of errors or omitted fulfilments. The information they need to collect includes, account holders' full data, their identity and residence, place of birth, tax identification number (TIN), accounts balances, interest on all financial instruments and dividends received, payments derived from insurance products, annuities, and the proceeds of sale from broadly defined financial products. The same reporting criteria applies to legal persons and other entities such as trusts and foundations, inclusive of all relevant data on beneficial owners as well as on those who exercise control, in accordance with the "look through" principle.
We would like to address some of these points. The standard implies strict reciprocity; however, the banks and intermediaries operating in a given country may collect data on their account holders to a different extent from that available in other financial centers (suffice to think of the "very advanced" and pretentious United States on compliance), this begs the question on whether such reciprocity can be ensured (and whether the Unites States does intend to implement this). It should be recalled, inter alia, that the FATF recommendations against money laundering are applied by these countries in rather different ways. Even the legal principle of "specialty", which requires any information reported to be used solely for tax purposes and to be kept confidential, may be difficult to apply in some countries (for example in Italy, where not only data protection is very deficient).
The common standard might then be "construed" by the different countries in such a way as to place a financial center at a disadvantage when compared to other centers. Going back to operational issues, the Common Reporting Standard indicates the operators that are involved. These are banks, custodial institutions, depositaries, brokers, investment funds, trusts and insurance companies. Another significant difference with respect to the U.S. FATCA is the absence of a minimum threshold (50,000 dollars for FATCA), below which the procedure does not apply. The automatic exchange encompasses any account of any nature and/or amount. The transmission of tax data and the reporting of information in line with the rules of the different countries in which the account holders reside, will also require the financial institutions to substantially upgrade their IT systems and will imply continuous updates; in fact, the tax systems of the different countries are not only very different but also quite complex, if not confusing, and continuously evolving.
A poignant question arises: will the standard work as effectively and ideally as suggested by the OECD? Will the flow of data and information really be homogeneous and managed correctly? This seems doubtful. While the Swiss government endorsed the plan with a timeliness that was seen as excessive by many, these concerns have been voiced by the government of The Bahamas, which has long favored a bilateral approach, i.e. via an agreement between two states on well-established grounds, to the multilateral and vague approach suggested by the OECD. A multilateral approach was described as "flawed" by Ryan Pinder, minister of financial services, at the Society of Trust Estate Practitioners (STEP) Caribbean Conference in July. Additionally, The Bahamas has a long track record of tax information agreements, beginning with the agreement with the United States which was entered into as early as 2002, followed by those with many other countries; The Bahamas was removed from the OECD "black list".
What the OECD is now projecting surpasses this. In fact, to identify tax evasion abroad may be challenging in the presence of hundreds of varying tax systems. Pinder also mentioned the issue of data confidentiality and the use of data in an unauthorized form, recalling the experience of several European countries. Also, the European Union and the OECD have opposed the extension of the so-called "Rubik model", i.e. the withholding on an anonymous basis of a tax equivalent to that which the account holder would pay in their state of residence. A solution adopted pragmatically by the United Kingdom with regard to Switzerland, which would have brought more funds into European States' coffers in swift and certain times, without the tax assessment and collection costs which they will now have to face, with more uncertain outcomes. In addition, the arbitrary creation of "black lists" by the OECD for smaller countries is questionable and does not benefit these countries. They are often not heard when the leading countries make such decisions on transparency, but rather are presented with a fait accompli; a position that has been upheld by many minor financial centers and one that has been clearly expressed by the government of The Bahamas.
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November 19, 2014
The Bahamas will continue to be "a mockery" in the international arenas of arbitration, litigation, and financial services if it does not revise its immigration policy regarding foreign lawyers and law firms, according to a prominent Queen's Counsel.
Speaking with Guardian Business, Fred Smith said that Bahamian lawyers should not be "frightened" by competition, stating that the country's quality of services could only improve through relaxed immigration policies for foreign practitioners.
"If we continue to hide behind our insecurities, our fear of competition, our xenophobia, our racism and our discriminating Bahamianization policy, then we are always destined to be last in line and will continue to be made a mockery of in the financial services industry, arbitration mediation, admiralty law and litigation," he said.
Moreover, Smith suggested that competition would provide improved services at a more competitive price, which is frankly necessary to compete in the global economy.
Smith supported Queen's Counsel Brian Moree and Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder, who have advocated for easing the barrier for foreign lawyers practicing in The Bahamas.
"If we are to begin to be competitive with [various] jurisdictions, we must have the vision and we must be secure in our sense of national identity to bring in law firms or individual lawyers and not just for offshore financial work, but generally," said Smith.
Pinder called for laxer immigration policies regarding foreign law firms, to assist in the development of the country's financial services sector, during the 2014 Nassau Conference, which was met with resistance by Bahamas Bar Association (BBA) President Elsworth Johnson.
Despite concerns from the Bar, Smith argued that easing restrictions on foreign practitioners could be managed through partnerships between local law firms and international firms, similarly to accounting firm partnerships.
"There is no need to open the regulatory door so that the influx of foreign lawyers or firms is not controlled. It can be easily managed," he said.
Moree, senior partner at McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes, has said that The Bahamas stands no chance of developing into a successful arbitration platform without reconsidering its immigration policies for foreign law firms and their litigation support teams.
Smith recalled Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson's statements expressing interest in shaping The Bahamas into a regional leader in arbitration, stressing that such a goal was impossible through the government's current mantra of "Bahamianization".
"The Bahamas could be a center for Latin American and Caribbean arbitration, mediation and alternative dispute resolution, but not if we hide behind the coattails of Bahamianization," he said.
Ultimately, Smith fears that continued strict immigration policies would hinder the country's legal services, stating: "The global marketplace is not protectionist for Bahamian lawyers."
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November 19, 2014
On the heels of jolting news from other Canadian financial institutions - most recently Scotiabank - word from CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank about the way in which it is "standardizing" client mandates touched off a flurry of coverage in the Caribbean press, which the bank sought to address with a November 15 "clarification letter".
The bank will begin processing its data within consolidated centers, according to the letter. The move, which the bank notes was approved by its regulators, is considered necessary to improve efficiency.
The clarification letter noted: "Centralized processing of client transactions, including through third parties, is standard across financial institutions and other companies, both inside the Caribbean and beyond."
The bank also disputed claims of "impending wide scale changes" to fees or rates, stating that the letter - sent to customers whose accounts were opened prior to 2007 - only "speaks generally to the possibility of future changes".
A "notification letter" - which raised the alarm in the first place - documents the bank's intention to change all the contractual arrangements that clients originally signed, to allow the bank to "unilaterally change any of the terms of [your] account opening agreement or any other of its agreement with [you] applicable to interest rates, fees, charges or overdraft limits at any time in the future; and such changes will deemed to have been unequivocally accepted by [you]."
The letter was signed by Mark St. Hill, CIBC FirstCaribbean's managing director, retail, business and international banking. St. Hill said: "The bank may change applicable fees, charges, overdraft limits at any time in the future and notify [you] by any means of public or private notification."
The bank said the changes for account agreements and fees will become effective after 30 days of the date that the notice is mailed or published, and it will be deemed to have been "unequivocally accepted" by customers.
According to the clarification letter sent after regional press coverage raised alarms, the correspondence is designed to standardize all client mandates.
"All accounts opened after 2007 are already signatories to this agreement - the correspondence was sent to customers whose accounts were opened prior to 2007 and is designed to bring these account agreements up-to-date and in line with the account mandate that has been signed by our customers who have opened accounts or accessed new services with the bank after January 2007."
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November 19, 2014
Three men were shot and killed between Monday night and Tuesday morning, and three others were injured in separate shootings, police reported.
The latest incident took place yesterday at Iguana Way, off Carmichael Road, where a man was shot multiple times.
The victim was identified as Jackson Knowles, who recently moved to Nassau from Freeport.
Chief Superintendent Clayton Fernander, officer-in-charge of the Central Detective Unit, said the man was in his early 30s.
"The only information that we are working with at this time is persons in the area heard a number of gunshots, came out and met the young man lying [on] the side of the street," Fernander said at the scene.
"We have information that a car was seen leaving the scene at a high rate of speed."
When The Nassau Guardian arrived on the scene, Knowles was still lying in the street.
Police also reported that another man, who was shot at Fox Hill Road around 1 a.m., died in hospital.
Police said the man, who was not identified, was found outside a residence.
The third man, Kevin Major, was shot and killed in front of his home off Cowpen Road after 7 o'clock on Monday night, police said.
Major, the coordinator of Materials Management at Doctors Hospital, died clutching gift-wrapping paper and a shopping bag.
Asked if police suspected robbery as the motive, Fernander said police had not ruled that out.
In a statement, Doctors Hospital CEO Charles Sealy said Major was dedicated and hard working.
"His memory will forever be etched in our hearts and mind," Sealy said.
Fernander said police had limited leads in relation to any of the recent murders and appealed to anyone who has information to contact authorities.
Police are also investigating two shootings that took place on Monday around 7 p.m.
Police said two men were shot while leaving a bar on Carmichael Road.
One of the men was shot in the back of the head and the other was shot in the thigh. Police said the men were treated in hospital and discharged.
Investigators arrested a 40-year-old man of Hire Drive in connection with the shooting.
The second incident took place around 9 p.m.
Police said a man was standing in front of a building on Odle Corner, off East Street, when he was shot twice in the arm by a another man.
The victim was taken to the hospital where he was listed in stable condition, police said.
Fernander said police are stepping up their efforts to get prolific offenders off the streets, particularly as the holiday season approaches.
"Police will be on the road," he said. "They will be through every side corner targeting every prolific offender...You will see saturated patrols.
"We know that the prolific offenders continue to offend, so we will continue to go after them."
Fernander appealed to law breakers to put down their guns.
"If you don't you will end up being a statistic..." he said.
The murder count for 2014 stands at 106.
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November 19, 2014
The murder of a long-time Doctors Hospital employee was a blow to the hospital's staff, according to CEO Charles Sealy.
Kevin Major was shot and killed in front of his home off Cowpen Road on Monday night, police said.
Major, the coordinator of materials management at Doctors Hospital, died clutching gift-wrapping paper and a shopping bag.
Asked if police suspected robbery as the motive, Chief Superintendent Clayton Fernander said police had not ruled that out.
In a statement, Sealy said,
"It was with great sadness and indeed a sense of disbelief that we at Doctors Hospital learned Monday night of the tragic shooting death of a member of our work family.
"This morning, we had an opportunity to assemble and to share our personal memories and to comfort one another.
"The commentary confirmed that we lost a hard-working, dedicated, caring and committed associate, who loved his work and more importantly his family. He kept the needs of others as more important than his own.
"His memory will forever be etched in our hearts and mind."
Sealy said Major had been employed with the hospital since 1989.
"We are trusting that the perpetrator(s) of this and other heinous acts will be swiftly brought to justice and denied the opportunity to commit such horrible acts ever again," Sealy added.
Major's murder was one of three that occurred in New Providence between Monday night and Tuesday morning.
Fernander said police had limited leads in relation to the recent murders and appealed to anyone who has information to contact authorities.
The murder count for The Bahamas for 2014 is 106.
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November 19, 2014
The bodies of the remaining three victims of the November 9 plane crash in Freeport, Grand Bahama were flown to New Providence yesterday morning.
The remains of Bahamas Faith Ministries International (BFMI) Youth Pastor Lavard Parks, his wife, Radel Parks, and their son, Johannan, arrived on a chartered flight that landed at Lynden Pindling International Airport just before noon.
The Parks were onboard the private jet that crashed around 5:10 p.m.
BFMI President Dr. Myles Munroe, his wife, Ruth Ann, BFMI Senior Vice President Pastor Richard Pinder, pilots Stanley Thurston and Frakhan Cooper, and Diego De Santiago were also on the doomed flight.
The bodies of the Munroes, Pinder and both pilots were flown back to New Providence on Monday.
They were welcomed home by dozens of relatives, friends, religious leaders and pastors, some of whom were from BFMI.
De Santiago's remains were collected by his relatives.
The Parks' caskets were draped in gold cloth as they were loaded into waiting hearses.
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November 19, 2014
Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis said yesterday the Free National Movement (FNM) stands "shoulder to shoulder with Prime Minister Perry Christie and his government" in the face of backlash from the international community over its immigration policy.
From his downtown office, Minnis said despite the policy and political differences between the official opposition and Christie administration,
"We are one when it comes to protection of our sovereignty.
"The FNM believes that in the main, the actions being taken by the administration are right and will redound to the benefit of The Bahamas in the long term.
"As we have publicly stated, the FNM is at all times deeply conscious of the need to executive public policy in the most appropriate way.
"We consider the preservation of human rights to be a paramount concern and in that regard, are committed to protecting and preserving the dignity of the individual at all times."
Minnis said while the FNM has been appraised of some concerns, its inquiries have confirmed that immigration officers have operated at the
"highest level of professionalism and sensitivity".
Amid concerns raised by several international organizations over the immigration policy, Christie told reporters on Monday the government recognizes this nation's international obligations, but it is doing what is "just", and "right".
Human rights organization Amnesty International expressed "serious concern" over the policy and said it received reports of alleged human rights violations and arbitrary detentions, with the Haitian community being disproportionately targeted.
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) recently expressed alarm over the "discriminatory use of the new immigration policies in The Bahamas".
Christie said Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell will travel to parts of the United States, including Washington, D.C., to address what he called "misinformation".
During a press conference in Little Haiti last week, Florida State Representative Daphne Campbell urged tourists and businesses to boycott The Bahamas over the policy.
Christie accused Campbell of "fueling resentment" with "absolute nonsense".
Minnis said he spoke with Christie yesterday and expressed the FNM's support.
Minnis said he advised Christie that St. Anne's MP and shadow minister of immigration, Hubert Chipman, will work closely with Mitchell.
He said he asked the prime minister to advise Mitchell of the same.
Minnis also commended the men and women of the Department of Immigration on the frontline of the initiative.
"They do their work under the most difficult, stressful and at times dangerous of circumstances," he said.
"We thank them for the work that they do on our behalf every day.
He added, "We encourage them to maintain their high standards."
The new policy, which took effect on November 1, requires all non-Bahamians to have passports of their nationalities and evidence that they have permission to live and work in the country.
It also states that the Department of Immigration will not accept first-time applications for residence or work permits from those who have no legal status in The Bahamas.
What has caused the most reaction are the images of children posted on social media sites during a raid on November 1.
However, Mitchell said they were picked up for their safety and well-being as their parents abandoned them when immigration officers visited their homes.
In that regard, Christie said "special policy" is in place when it comes to children, and the agencies involved in enforcing the policy are being "responsible".
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November 19, 2014
Web shops will be "legal" as of Monday, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said yesterday.
However, Wilchcombe said those businesses, which meet the requirements of the government's request for proposals (RFPs), will be regulated in April or May 2015.
He called the gap an "amnesty period".
Wilchcombe revealed that an estimated $700 million worth of play occurs in the system on an annual basis.
In 2012, Paul Major, a consultant to the web shop legalization lobby, put that figure at $370 million to $400 million.
The government will issue RFPs in mid-January, according to Wilchcombe.
Once issued, web shops will have approximately six weeks to respond and comply with a range of requirements in order to obtain licenses.
One requirement involves providing an affidavit of earnings and other financial details.
Wilchcombe noted that the April or May timeline is flexible.
"After it becomes law you serve notices, then each of the web shops must declare that they are in existence, and there is an affidavit that is required, determining if they are going to move forward," Wilchcombe said.
"Then there is a process by which you issue the RFPs and the RFPs will determine who goes beyond that, which will require an evaluation of the companies.
"You are to submit certain things in respect of your company. ICS (internal control standards), all of that stuff has to be done."
Wilchcombe said web shop owners agreed to disclose their financial records during previous discussions with the government.
He said those disclosures will enable the government to finalize the rate of taxation, among other things specific to the industry.
Based on the penalties, application, business license, housing and agent fees, web shop owners could potentially pay the government over $30 million before licenses are issued, according to Wilchcombe.
"If you are talking about everything that we are expected to earn in the first year, we are talking about around $42 million or thereabouts," he said.
Voters overwhelmingly said no to the regulation and taxation of web shops in the January 2013 gambling referendum.
Amid controversy, the gaming legislation was passed in the House of Assembly and Senate in September 2014.
While there is no temporary closing period for web shops, businesses that are not involved in the RFP process will be forced to close their doors.
Wilchcombe predicted that while some smaller web shops will merge with larger operations, others will close.
That does not exempt those operators from paying retroactive taxes, he noted.
There are 16 operators in the web shop industry.
Asked about a cap on gaming house licenses, Wilchcombe said, "There is no maximum. I have said at least eight. We are hoping to manage it.
"As I said before, we do not want a proliferation. We want to control and regulate... We have to see how best this works."
Wilchcombe said international observers, key among them the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), are "pretty comfortable right now" with the government's plans.
"On many occasions we are not only talking to The Bahamas, but we are talking to the world and we are setting an example to the world," he said.
Wilchcombe said the undertaking has been a complex process and will continue to be moving forward given the sophisticated nature of the industry.
He said the government has brought in experts, including a compliance specialist, to assist with the regulation process, but did not provide specifics on their role or costs.
The minister added that the government "learns something new" every day about the gaming industry.
Among several considerations is whether to cap winnings per dollar gambled to ensure one web shop does not squeeze out another.
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November 19, 2014
With the refurbishment of an additional five supreme courts complete, Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez said yesterday the government has done "everything humanly possible" to speed up trials and expects the judiciary to do its job.
Gomez, who spoke to reporters as he headed into the weekly Cabinet meeting, noted that the government has amended crime laws, provided police with additional resources and most recently provided infrastructure to accommodate additional cases.
The courts are in the building that previously housed a magistrate's court and the police prosecutions office, and in the Ansbacher Building on Bank Lane.
The courts will add to the six criminal courts that are currently in use.
"The government has fulfilled its promised," Gomez said.
"The courts are completed. They are ready to be used and all we are waiting for is the chief justice to give the go ahead. But we have done what we have said we would and we have made it possible for 10 criminals courts to be sitting simultaneously."
The judiciary came under scrutiny last June when Gomez revealed that only 89 criminal cases were tried within a 12-month period.
When he made that statement there were five criminal courts.
Gomez said the new courts are "critical to our overcoming the criminal trial backlog and to provide speedy trials for the public who for too long have been faced with a situation in which there is a revolving door for bail".
"We are hopeful that with the cooperation of the judiciary we will have the resources deployed in the way that they should be.
"We have been tweaking the criminal law over the last two-and-a-half years. This occupation of the court facilities is far more important that any other law that we have passed, principally because in the past our problem has been the capacity to hear and determine cases quickly.
"We have now provided the physical space. Last year, we passed an act to increase the number of judges in the Supreme Court. So we have done everything humanly possible to ensure that cases can be heard within a reasonable time and we expect the judiciary to do its job."
The government was hoping to have 10 criminal courts running simultaneously by the end of this year.
However, in October Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett said that would be "problematic".
"I think 10 by the end of this year is unrealistic at this stage," he said.
"But certainly, we can increase the number from presently six to possibly eight. We need to put a lot of things in place for that to be done.
"It's not easy to conduct a criminal trial because you know you have to have jurors, you have the wider bar.
"A lot of things [have] to be contemplated to enable that to be done. So that is the objective, to increase the number of courts dealing with criminal trials."
In the meantime, he said judges are doing what they can to speed up trials.
Legal observers have said that unless efforts are made to increase the number of trials that are completed, the backlog would continue to increase.
Many people have also opined that the inefficient judicial system is tied to crime.
Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade has bemoaned the fact that many people charged with serious crimes are often given bail because they are not tried within a reasonable period of time.
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November 19, 2014
A young man threw a knife across the street after stabbing his cousin, a Coroner's jury heard yesterday.
The evidence came from a 15-year-old witness as he recounted what led to the fatal stabbing of 13-year-old Gilbert Bain Jr. at the hands of Miguel Darville.
Gilbert died in hospital on February 16, 2014, the day after Darville stabbed him outside his home on Golden Sun Way.
Darville is not on trial for the death, but a coroner's jury is investigating Gilbert's death. The inquest does not determine criminal or civil liability.
The witness said that he was on Gilbert's porch and they were skylarking.
At one point, the witness recalled that Gilbert told Darville "some boys from GHS, Government High School, wanted to see him".
The witness said that Darville "gripped" Gilbert and told him what to do if the boys approached him again.
The witness said that Darville told Gilbert to grip him back and they began what he perceived to be a play fight.
The witness said Darville slapped Gilbert. The witness said Gilbert became angry and told Darville to "ease up".
The witness said he heard Gilbert say he was stabbed.
The teenager said at first he thought Gilbert was joking until he ran inside his home holding his side.
Until the stabbing, the teenager said he had no idea that Darville was armed, although he claimed he had seen him with a knife about a week prior to the stabbing.
He said he saw Darville throw the knife across the street towards his house. Police collected the knife from a neighbor's yard, the court heard.
Darville had no questions for the witness.
Gilbert's father, Gilbert Bain Sr., broke down in tears as he told the witness, "I just want to know the truth. I know my son was not a troublesome child."
Asked by Coroner Jeanine Weech-Gomez if he had any questions, Bain said "no" and left the court in tears.
The inquest continues today.
Sergeant Berlin Smith is marshalling the evidence.
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November 19, 2014
A magistrate on Tuesday sentenced a 24-year-old Jamaican woman convicted of forcing her compatriot into prostitution to three years and eight months' imprisonment.
However, Appolonia McClain-Smith only has 31 months remaining on her sentence as she received credit for the 13 months spent awaiting trial.
The court did not make a deportation order on the completion of the sentence.
In passing sentence, Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt said she believed McClain was capable of reform given her age and that she had apologized "for her actions against the people of The Bahamas and the people of her own country".
Ferguson-Pratt told the convict she hoped the experience "served as a wake-up call" as she reminded her she controlled her destiny.
Ferguson-Pratt said she hoped McClain-Smith became a better woman and mother.
She convicted McClain-Smith of trafficking in persons, unlawfully withholding the identification of a person, and transporting a person for the purpose of prostitution last month.
She was sentenced to three years and eight months on the first count and three years on the remaining counts. The sentences are to run concurrently.
The offenses were committed from May to July 2013, the court found.
The court found that McClain-Smith, who is married to a Bahamian, lured the victim to the country under the guise that she would work as a cashier.
Instead, McClain-Smith made her dance and sell her body at Magic City.
The victim testified that McClain-Smith told her how much to charge for her services. She was also told that she would have to repay McClain-Smith $1,200 for her ticket and $250 per week for rent.
The victim said she gave McLain-Smith $550 every Sunday.
The woman said that she gave McClain-Smith her passport ostensibly to get an extension from immigration officials, but it was never returned.
For her part, McClain-Smith denied the offenses, claiming that she was doing a friend a favor by collecting the victim from the airport and giving her somewhere to stay.
She said that the woman had made up the claims out of spite because she thought McClain-Smith was responsible for her subsequent detention by immigration authorities.
Ferguson-Pratt found that McClain-Smith "used psychological coercion and indirect threats of harm".
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November 19, 2014
A judge excused members of a jury shortly after their selection on Monday to hear legal arguments.
The jury will decide whether prosecutors have proven Axanthio Patrick Thompson is guilty of the May 30, 2012 shooting death of Aaron Hepburn at First Street, The Grove.
Thompson, who is on bail, has denied the charge at his trial before Justice Indra Charles.
Attorneys Wayne Munroe and Jomo Campbell appear for Thompson.
Uel Johnson, Anishka Hanchell and Viola Barnett make up the prosecution's team.
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November 19, 2014
I have read The Nassau Guardian's editorial of Monday, November 17, 2014 entitled: 'Mitchell's citizenship warning was unhelpful.'
Firstly, the words of Daphne Campbell, a Florida state representative were nationally offensive and troublesome to most Bahamians - when she called for tourists and businesses to boycott The Bahamas over our country's immigration policies.
Secondly, to add insult to injury, Jetta Baptiste, a naturalized Bahamian of Haitian descent who presently lives in the USA, agreed publicly with Campbell. This further inflamed Bahamians; and it was a devastating mistake on Batiste's part, in my opinion.
The citizenship warning was in order, in my view, as no one really knows how far persons are prepared to go in order to be heard on the issue of illegal immigration in The Bahamas.
Baptiste is within her rights to express her perspective; but she needs to understand that we Bahamians have feelings and she has hurt so many with her concurrence with Campbell - a foreigner.
Baptiste has created many lifelong enemies in The Bahamas. So, it might be in her best interest to consider citizenship in another country.
The Nassau Guardian's editorial focused on the rights of an individual to express oneself under the law. It did not talk about a loose and ungrateful tongue, and the damage which is instigated by it.
Baptiste has unwittingly revoked her own Bahamian citizenship by supporting foreign elements against the Bahamian people and nation - in a very damning fashion.
Let's face it, we are not fighting a war against government immigration policy detractors as The Nassau Guardian might feel. Our fight has more to do with the internal chronic disunity among us Bahamians, and our political gangster mentality which affects our progress as one people.
- Dennis Dames
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November 19, 2014
I read with interest a letter to the editor written by Pam Burnside entitled, 'Where Is the Mettle?' I have found all of the letters written by Mrs. Burnside to be very interesting and courageous. I will attempt to answer some of the timely questions she has asked while I address what I refer to as the spineless and gutless Bahamian.
I will begin with the quality of today's politician. It is obvious that today's politician has diminished from those of the 60s, 70s and early 80s. While past politicians were committed to the advancement of the people and the development of the country, today's politicians are more concerned with winning the next election.
While our country lacks statesmen, Parliament is filled with visionless individuals who continue to tow the line and offer no constructive solutions to our long list of challenges. Where is the passion?
I will say without fear of contradiction that 95 percent of the individuals in Parliament do not possess a 'passion'. This is obvious in the manner that they deliberate and the representation of their constituencies.
I believe that leadership begins at the top. The leaders ought to galvanize the people, inspire the nation and motivate Bahamians to excel. On two occasions Baha Mar fired hundreds of its employees. Yet I hear the leader of the hotel union say "I'm sorry." She actually apologized for a comment she made. I believe she may be overwhelmed in her role at this critical time in our country.
We are what I like to refer to as the instant generation. I want it now. Gimme it now. We are the spineless, the gutless generation.
I refer to a quote I heard sometime ago: "As long as my belly full I happy". Where is the passion from the hotel union to fight on behalf of the hundreds of displaced workers? Will a meeting with the prime minister suffice? Or will the president of the union lead workers to block the entrance to the hotel and make a bold statement?
We are tired and we will not take this any longer! Where is the passion from the prime minister? Why hasn't the prime minister told Baha Mar "I will not allow you to do this to my people! You have to find work for them now"? Where is the passion from the minister responsible for labor to stand up for the workers in this country?
Are we developing strong leaders? I think not. I do not see a young Hubert Ingraham on the horizon, or a Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, or a Milo Butler or a Lynden Pindling or an Arthur Hanna, or a Arthur Foulkes to name just a few.
No Mr. Editor, I do not see anyone with the slightest resemblance. I do not see a Thomas Bastian or a Pat Bain to name a few. I do not see the individual who will sacrifice himself or herself for the good of this country. I see a selfish individual who's telling us 'it's raining.' But at the same time, is urinating on our legs.
Mr. Editor, it is a tragedy that as educated as we are, we seem to be slipping into mediocrity on a daily basis. We seem contented to take a wait and see attitude. The letter writer asks, are we content to satisfy our concerns on the talk shows and social media sites?
While the indigenous Bahamian is being pushed to the back of the bus and may eventually get kicked off the bus, persons who have washed up on the shore are breaking the law. And while the minister is being praised for initiating a process to rid the country of illegal migrants, depending on whom you believe, we have 40,000 to 50,000 illegal migrants residing in the Bahamas. Yet according to a newspaper article, we deported 244 illegal migrants recently. Go figure.
Mr. Editor, it is obvious that our country is sliding down a slippery slope. While it is obvious that our standard of living has improved and we are far better educated than past generations, I believe we lack the passion, the testicular fortitude of past generations.
We are contented to hide behind our masks and whisper in the dark, while Rome is burning. Until more of us take a stand and demand more from our lawmakers, we will continue to be abused.
I'm reminded of a time when I was watching television news. The journalist was talking about Ukraine. I recall a Ukranian person saying, "We will not move from the square until the government resigns and new elections are held." And so said, so done.
And until we develop that kind of attitude, Jeanne Thompson will continue to ask "Where is our spunk?"
Too many young people are consumed with Facebook and the Internet, dominating their daily lives. You witness them walking with their phones, texting, on Facebook, on the Internet not looking up. Not even acknowledging a good morning or good afternoon.
Where is the passion? One is left to wonder, do they have a passion for anything, other than to go on Facebook and conduct themselves like social illiterates?
The spineless and gutless Bahamian. The letter writer asks "Where is the passion now?" Unfortunately Mrs. Burnside, I do not see it.
There exists a pervasive attitude throughout our country that will continue to emasculate the indigenous Bahamian, continue to push them off the bus while we slip into oblivion.
- Pat Strachan
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November 19, 2014
Value-added tax (VAT) is scheduled to come into effect on January 1, 2015 at a rate of 7.5 percent. The purpose of VAT is not to grow the economy or to modernize the system of tax collection in The Bahamas. The tax has been created to increase the revenue intake for the state.
The budget deficit for the 2012/13 fiscal year was $647 million. The projected deficit for the 2013/14 fiscal year was $550 million. With a debt-to-GDP ratio of 66 percent in 2013, The Bahamas is not in the crisis zone. Our debt level, however, has more than doubled in just over a decade. It was only 30 percent in 2001.
This fiscal year, the government kept its spending level at its highest level. We, the people, are being called upon to finance the growing needs of our state.
While we all will theoretically be called upon to pay more, the government needs to do its part to ensure that everyone is paying what is owed. This is a big problem in The Bahamas. We see where people and businesses that owe state organizations just do not pay them. Favoritism comes into play when it is time to pay.
In some industries, zombie businesses exist only because their owners are politically connected. These companies do not pay their taxes and fees, and when it is time for the enforcement of the laws to compel them to pay, a call is made to a politician, who then makes a call to someone in the state agency, who then stops action from being taken.
This practice deprives the treasury of money. It causes financial problems for the corporations. It also causes an unfair advantage to the bill dodgers. It is hard for honest companies and individuals to compete with people who do not have to pay the taxes and fees legally owed to the state and its agencies.
VAT will only work to bring in more revenue if the government finally gets serious about tax collection. As minister of finance, Prime Minister Perry Christie should seek to break this culture of slackness and cronyism. We should all equally be made to pay what we owe. Those who fall on hard times can go on the payment plans these agencies have. But no person or company should be allowed to not pay anything just because a friend can be called for a favor.
Honest citizens and businesses want fairness. Our current practices reward too many who should be out of business.
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November 19, 2014
Pro-life activists who oppose the death penalty have called on the government to address the root causes of crime instead of advocating for capital punishment.
Leela Ramdeen, chair of Greater Caribbean For Life, and Renny Cushing, the founder and executive director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, made New Providence the last leg of a speaking tour last Saturday as they pushed for the abolition of the death penalty.
Before coming to The Bahamas, the group visited Antigua, Jamaica, St Lucia, Grenada and Barbados.
In an exclusive interview with The Nassau Guardian, Ramdeen said governments need to "address the root causes of crime such as poverty, social exclusion, youth unemployment, gangs and an inefficient criminal justice system".
According to Ramdeen, politicians support the death penalty to appear tough on crime, but she hopes that they could "be brave enough" to admit that capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime.
The murder of Cushing's father in 1988 influenced his work as an advocate for victims of crime and as a voice in the anti-death penalty movement.
Cushing, a New Hampshire State representative, said after the perpetrators were caught, he met a friend who told him, "I hope they fry the bastards, so that you and your mother can get some peace."
Cushing said his father's violent murder did not change his opposition to capital punishment because in his view the state was "setting an example that it's okay to kill".
Cushing said governments need to focus on the real needs of victims of crimes, as their economic and psychological needs are often ignored.
Cushing said the state decides to seek the death penalty in a small number of cases and this is "an affront to victims as a hierarchy of victims is created".
"They will seek the death penalty for the murder of a policeman, but not a priest or a news reporter," he said.
Cushing also noted that the poor and disadvantaged are often executed.
"The death penalty is not for the worst of the worst, but for those who have the worst lawyer. You don't see millionaires on Death Row."
For those who argue that the death penalty would ensure that the convict would be unable to reoffend, Ramdeen noted that "a lot of innocent people have been exonerated". She said that 147 Death Row inmates have been exonerated in the United States since 1973.
"The death penalty system requires infallibility but is administered by persons who by their very nature are fallible."
Ramdeen pointed to the recent acquittals of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown in North Carolina after new evidence linked the 1983 rape and murder of Sabrina Buie to another man. McCollum and Brown, who are both mentally challenged, had signed coerced confessions, according to news reports.
In the Bahamian context, a judge in 2011 ordered the acquittal of Hilfrant Joseph, after ruling that his confession to the murders of Denise Clarke and Felix Johnson was illegally obtained. At the end of his videotaped confession Joseph, a diagnosed schizophrenic asked, "I still ga get the food, right?"
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November 18, 2014
The first glimpse of the coffin of Pastor Myles Munroe came at 1:21 p.m. yesterday, when it was carried off the SkyBahamas SAAB 340 aircraft that landed at Lynden Pindling International Airport less than half an hour earlier.
It was draped in gold cloth and placed gently into a waiting hearse as Munroe's family, friends, Bahamas Faith Ministries International (BFMI) church members and many others looked on.
Some, including members of the media, wiped away tears at the site.
It was the final flight of the renowned religious leader, who was killed in a plane crash in Freeport on November 9.
"The church and the nation have lost a giant of a man, a great soldier and there's a void that is left in our country and we pray that God will help us to continue the work that Dr. Myles started," said Bahamas Christian Council President Dr. Ranford Patterson, who added that he was also close to Pastor Richard Pinder, one of the crash victims.
Outside the security gate at the airport, a crowd had gathered holding a large Bahamian flag, some of them sobbing.
Prior to the plane's landing, a team of men from BFMI wearing dark suits and somber gazes walked onto the tarmac.
They formed a circle and prayed silently before escorting the hearses briefly. Some of their cheeks were damp from their tears; one of them handed a news reporter a piece of tissue.
When the plane's door opened, prior to the coffins coming off, several men who had accompanied the bodies back to Nassau stepped off: Grand Bahama Minister Dr. Michael Darville; Senator Kwasi Thompson; former Minister Zhivargo Laing and Freeman and Kenny Lockhart, brothers of Ruth Ann Munroe, Pastor Myles' wife, who died in the crash.
It was a mission none of them would have envisioned days earlier.
"It was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had in my life," Laing said.
"Not in my wildest imagination would I have imagined that I would have accompanied Pastor Myles and Pastor Ruth back to Nassau, their remains lying in caskets. It was challenging to reflect on that the entire time of the journey."
Moments after Myles Munroe's coffin was placed in hearse number 16, his wife's coffin was taken off the aircraft and placed into a second hearse, number 18.
Ruth's coffin was draped in aqua cloth.
The flag colors on the coffins were symbolic of their love of country.
Minutes later, the two hearses pulled next to each other, a reminder that the two remained side by side in death, as they had in life.
Not long after, three more coffins were placed into waiting hearses.
They carried the bodies of Pastor Richard Pinder; pilot Stanley Thurston and first officer Frahkan Cooper. Their bodies arrived aboard a Flamingo Air Beechcraft 99.
The hearses crawled along the tarmac, stopping in front of a Bahamasair hangar for a few minutes, not far from where the families sat.
The Munroe children, Myles "Chairo" Munroe Jr. and Charisa Munroe, silently wiped away tears.
Their aunt, Sheena Pinder, Pastor Pinder's widow and Ruth's sister, also sat quietly with her children Richard Jr. and Talia.
'Thank you for being born'
Seated nearby was Richard Demeritte, who was one of Myles Munroe's closest friends.
"This is the most difficult period for me since I lost my own son back in 1992," Demeritte told The Nassau Guardian.
"Over the last few days, my body has been numbed. I can't think straight. [I spoke] to Dr. Munroe every blessed day.
"No matter where he was in the world, he would call around 12 or 1 o'clock at night and we would speak every night about all matters.
"I just missed being a part of this fatal flight because I was scheduled to be on it and we spoke at 1 o'clock and he asked me to go over the program [for the Global Leadership Summit], which I did, and organize the protocol.
"And then I said to him, 'I'm not going to travel'. And then he asked 'Why not?'. I said 'Because I am paying attention to the little words in my head not to travel'.
"He said to me 'But you [have] to go. I need you with me'. I didn't respond to him, but I went to my computer and I sent him an email and I explained to him why, I wanted him to be fully aware I wasn't traveling.
"My heart wasn't there. My mind wasn't there. I was uncomfortable. I always get these premonitions of things and that's what it is."
As he sat watching his dearest friend's coffin carried off the aircraft, Demeritte clutched a letter written to him by Munroe.
"I am proud to call you friend, brother, colleague, partner and close confidant," Munroe wrote.
"And I appreciate your friendship and companionship over the past 20 years. Even though I have associated with millions around the world, only a few I have allowed into my personal circle.
"And the standards and criteria for that relationship are high. You are one of the few I would call a friend.
"In many ways, you have taken the place of my brother who died a few years ago, who was like my twin. It seems as if God knew I needed another brother. Thank you for being born."
Demeritte admitted he is "still in denial" more than a week after the tragedy.
"As I remember Myles, I can only see a young, strong, outstanding, focused individual who knew exactly where he was headed and what needed to be done," he said.
"It's going to take a long time for me to get a real feeling of this. It is very difficult."
Watching the scene with tears in his eyes, Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells said he had to be there for Pastor Munroe's arrival.
"When someone has poured into your life the way Pastor Myles has poured into my life, and indeed the life of many persons, we can now look at who are doing substantive things in the Bahamian society; it is a way to kind of pay a special tribute to him and to really say what he meant," Wells said.
House Speaker Dr. Kendal Major stood with the men who waited to silently salute the hearses as they passed.
"Although we bleed, we don't bleed in vain because we know the bleeding will stop and we will pick up where we left off and carry the vision on," said Major, a member of BFMI.
"I am comforted that the vision will carry on. It must be because the seeds have been planted and we are the better because of it."
Major added, "Today I am feeling hopeful, but I am feeling the weight of the magnitude of what he has meant to me and our country.
"I have shed tears daily and now to stand here and watch the solemn remains to be taken off the plane and brought for the family and world to see, we want to make sure it is given its greatest dignity for posterity and in recognizing that the Bahamian people know and accept him as the son and the conscience of the nation."
Also seated in the hangar was Dave Burrows, BFMI's new senior pastor, who was having a birthday like no other.
As opposed to celebrating with his family at lunch or at some other special event, Burrows, like many others, spent the day in mourning.
"We have been like brothers over the last 30 years," Burrows said of Munroe and Pinder, not long after their hearses pulled off.
"We have traveled together, we have worked together. We shared so many moments together. It's a difficult process right now."
He added, "In everything we have to be strong, and although it happens to be happening on my birthday, I realize that in everything we have to give thanks and in everything we must move on, and we must realize that, in every situation, God is for us. So we have to find the good in every situation and find strength, no matter what's going on."
Burrows then got into one of the vehicles in the convoy that escorted the Munroes' bodies, as well as Pinder's body and Cooper's body to Bethel Brothers funeral home.
Thurston's body was taken to Restview Memorial.
Diego De Santiago's remains were cremated and collected by his family. The Colorado resident considered the Munroes his spiritual parents.
The bodies of Radel and Lavard Parks, who were recently installed BFMI youth pastors, and the body of their son, Johannan, were still in Freeport yesterday as they had not yet been released to be returned to Nassau.
A special salute is also expected to be paid to the Parks family at LPIA when the bodies are returned.
Radel Parks was pregnant with the couple's second child.
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November 18, 2014
Former Minister of State for the Environment Phenton Neymour announced yesterday he will run for chairman at the Free National Movement's (FNM) convention on Friday.
"I find it necessary to step forward as an FNM, to stand firmly, espousing our principles and be a part of the solution through the FNM," said Neymour, the former MP for South Beach.
"I am consistently hearing a call for new, innovative, compassionate, humble and decisive leadership that feels your pain.
"I believe that I fit all of those qualities and can continue our efforts to improve the quality of life for all Bahamians through the office of the national chairman of the FNM.
"Therefore, I plan to offer myself for the position of national chairman at the FNM National convention on November 21, 2014."
He said the FNM needs strong leadership now more than ever at all levels of the party given the national challenges.
"It also requires a national chairman that understands the plight of the Family Islands and the feeling of isolation in the decision making process," Neymour said.
"The fact is, Family Islanders understand what is needed to resolve their problems. We need to listen, honestly engage them and actively address their challenges.
"The FNM must clearly articulate its philosophy and its platform.
"We cannot afford to be classified as the opposition, merely opposing for opposing sake."
Neymour said the FNM needs to be an organization that is "battle ready".
He said its leadership must be able to "bring all the soldiers under one tent and equip them for the impending battle in the next general election."
FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis and Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner have put their names forward for the leadership race.
FNM Chairman Darron Cash and FNM Deputy Chairman Dr. Duane Sands plan to run for the deputy leader position.
Former Senator Frederick McAlpine said he will run for deputy chairman.
McAlpine told The Guardian he wants to help strengthen the party.
FNM Deputy Chairman Brensil Rolle said he will determine what post he will run for soon.
FNM Senator Michael Pintard said he, too, is strongly considering running for deputy leader, but is also considering whether to offer himself for chairman.
When contacted last night, Pintard said he will announce his intentions today.
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November 18, 2014
A man was shot dead in front of his home off Cowpen Road last night, according to police.
While details were limited, police said the man, who is believed to be in his late 40s, was standing in front of his home shortly after 7 p.m.
Eyewitness accounts revealed that a vehicle pulled up alongside the home before its occupants fired several shots.
The victim was shot multiple times, police said.
He died at the scene.
According to police, the victim was an employee at Doctors Hospital. A hospital official was at the crime scene last night, according to police.
This latest killing pushed the murder count for the year to 104.
The country recorded its 103rd murder less than 24 hours before that incident.
A woman was stabbed to death in her home off East Street South by a man who was believed to be her boyfriend, police said.
Reports are that police got a call around 8:10 p.m. that a woman was lying dead in a pool of blood in a house on Alfred Way off Winder's Terrace.
Chief Superintendent Clayton Fernander said police found the woman, 19, on the floor in her bedroom with several stab wounds.
"We believe it is domestic, but we are still following that line to confirm," Fernander said at the scene.
"As a result of the information from the scene, officers went to Carmichael Road where they arrested a young man in his early 30s, believed to be the boyfriend of the victim."
The Nassau Guardian understands that the victim, who was a Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute cosmetology graduate, would have celebrated her 20th birthday yesterday.
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