ST GEORGES, Grenada, February 28, 2007 – Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell of Grenada has sued a local radio station over a bribery allegation but local journalists see it as intimidation and an effort to stifle debate on a matter of public importance.
A release from the Office of the Attorney General last week Monday said that a lawsuit was filed against Andall and Associates, and Spice Media, the operators of 90.1 FM for libeling Dr Mitchell and his Office in various broadcast by radio commentator Eddie Frederick. The Attorney General is seeking damages and an injunction preventing the station from making similar broadcasts.
However, President of the Media Workers Association of Grenada (MWAG), Michael Bascombe, sees the move as nothing else but to quash freedom of speech and said the association was “extremely concerned” at the latest move against Spice Capital Radio.
“MWAG is concerned that the action could have the effect of stifling debate on a matter of national importance,” Bascombe said in a release yesterday.
“While we acknowledge it is the right of any individual to seek legal redress on any matter, we are nonetheless concerned that this latest action could be interpreted as an act of intimidation against the local media fraternity. We urge all media practitioners to be professional in their approach to their task and MWAG would be seeking the support of the regional and international media fraternity in this latest legal action by the State.”
CHARGES OF BRIBERY
The action came after radio host Eddie Frederick interviewed David Merchant, editor of Offshore Alert, late last year over a series of articles which alleged that Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell received US$500,000 from a German national in exchange for an appointment to a diplomatic position.
The man in question is Eric Resteiner, a former trade official for Grenada, who has since pleaded guilty to charges of operating a US$47 million investment scam. OffshoreAlert has alleged that Resteiner purchased the diplomatic posting so as to claim diplomatic immunity and avoid prosecution.
In its April 30, 2004 edition, OffshoreAlert wrote that Mitchell allegedly accepted a Louis Vuitton brief case from Resteiner that contained half a million US dollars in $100 bills at Resteiner’s home in Switzerland.
The event was secretly video recorded for Resteiner’s by his then Director of Security, Timothy Lee Bass, and that video was said to have been handed over the FBI during the fraud trial last year.
The magazine said that in a telephone interview with Mitchell he denied that he had done anything improper and speculated that he had been set up for blackmail.
“Mitchell agreed that a meeting had taken place as generally described by Bass but he disputed the amount that was handed over and its purpose. The brief case contained ‘only’ about $12,000 to $14,000 and did not represent a personal payment for any purported favors to Resteiner but was to cover the legitimate expenses of a Grenada promotional tour,” the magazine reported.
It quoted Mitchell as saying that “There was nothing improper about it … It was payment for expenses incurred by our delegation during a trip to promote Grenada and pursue possible economic benefits for the country. We were there because Mr. Resteiner led us to believe that he could benefit Grenada’s economy. He offered to pay our expenses and, since we are a small country with limited resources, we accepted.”
The magazine said that Mitchell’s version was backed up by Michael Creft, Grenada’s former Registrar of Offshore Services, who called OffshoreAlert at the Prime Minister’s behest. Creft also told the magazine that long before the meeting, Resteiner had been appointed as a Trade Adviser by Grenada, not an Ambassador, as Bass claimed and as OffshoreAlert has been told by other sources.
The whistler blower was Bass who made the allegations to OffshoreAlert in February, 2001 and reaffirmed it in an affidavit sworn in Illinois on April 25, 2003. He alleged it was not the first payment.
In 2005, Mitchell in an effort to quash rumours and clear his name appointed Sir Richard Cheltenham of Barbados as the sole Commissioner of Inquiry into the allegations. The hearing started June 13, 2005 and was adjourned on June 17, 2005 after Grenada’s Leader of the Opposition, Tillman Thomas, took court action seeking the right to be represented at the Inquiry in order that he or a representative can question witnesses.
The court has not yet ruled.