Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis Monday broke his silence on opposition calls for the resignation of his Finance Minister Kevin Peter Turnquest amid allegations of his involvement in a reported US$20 million fraud scheme.
Opposition and Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) leader, Phillip Davis, has called on Prime Minister Minnis to issue a statement on the matter while urging him to dismiss the Deputy Prime Minister if he fails to resign over the ongoing controversy.
But Minnis said that his Cabinet is “deliberating” over the issue that is now “a court matter right now.
“We’ll get back to you as soon as Cabinet completes our deliberation and discussion,” he told reporters, dismissing suggestions that the controversy could hurt the ruling free National Movement (FNM) in the next general election constitutionally due in 2022.
“I think the people know exactly what we’re doing. The people know our heart. The people know the challenges we faced in terms of Irma when we first came in. We were challenged with Hurricane Irma. We were the first government to have embarked on-air evacuation from the south to ensure that there were no deaths during that hurricane and in spite of that, an economic programme continued to move forward. Then we were challenged with Dorian and in spite of that, we continued to move forward.
“And now we’re plagued with COVID and the entire world is plagued with COVID and in spite of that we continue to focus our concentration on building a better Bahamas,” Minnis said.
Turnquest has in the past denied any involvement and has referred to the issue as “false claims”.
Although he is not named as a defendant in the legal action, Turnquest is accused of involvement in a conspiracy that led to two companies being defrauded of millions of dollars.
In a statement of claim, the two companies – Alpha Aviation Limited and Advanced Aviation Limited – allege that Randy Butler, Sky Bahamas Airlines Limited and Aviation Oversight Group Ltd., together with Turnquest, conspired “wrongfully and with intent to injure” those companies and/or “to cause loss to them by unlawful means and/or to enrich themselves…”
The court document alleges that these fraudulent acts occurred between 2008 and 2017. Alpha and Advanced allege that Turnquest, who was a director and manager of those companies, and the other “conspirators”, dishonestly caused them to pay away millions of dollars in “bogus loans” and fraudulent invoices and/or book entries.
But in a statement to the media last week, Turnquest said he was appalled that his standing as a public servant made calling his name in this dispute between his former business partners worthwhile, and added that his focus remains on his work to improve and modernize the management of the country’s economy and public finances.
However, Davis said that Turnquest’s statement was “arrogantly dismissive” and missed the point of good governance entirely.”
The PLP said Dr Minnis must be reminded that he has a duty to act when his ministers refuse to take the honourable course.