St.John’s , Antigua (July 29th 2015):-Antigua and Barbuda Attorney General Steadroy “cutie ” Benjamin, at a press conference held yesterday, has announced his decision to step down as Minister responsible for Immigration to allow for an independent investigation into sensitive human trafficking matters.
According to sources, two officials from the US Department of Homeland Security flew to Antigua on Wednesday to will be conduct an independent investigation into the Antigua Immigration Department after claims of some 14 visa waivers for Syrian nationals were confirmed by the PM Gaston Browne led ABLP government.
These 14 visa Syrian waivers are said to be apart of a human-smuggling ring.
Mr Benjamin confirmed that he has indicated his intention to step aside as minister of immigration to prime minister Hon. Gaston Browne.
The country’s main opposition, United Progressive Party (UPP) has strongly rejected Immigration Minister Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin’s proposal to step down from the Immigration portfolio pending an investigation into the alleged Syrian smuggling ring. And, instead, wants him to relinquish his entire portfolio.
The opposiion believes Benjamin should be stripped of the portfolios of legal affairs, attorney general and labour, as well
“We believe that as attorney general, as the government’s legal advisor, he cannot sit and advise the government legally at this time when he is one of the persons whose name has been implicated in this sordid affair,” Lovell told a news conference, Tuesday.
The UPP leader charged that the AG has made certain statements in the media, which on close examination, cannot stand up to scrutiny.
He referenced a report in the local media in which Benjamin was quoted as saying the 14 Syrians who have been detained are visitors to Antigua & Barbuda.
“In our view, when one considers that persons have been widely reported to have stated that they or their families paid US$10,000 and US$20,000 in addition to airfare, and in addition to the regular US$100 fee for visa waivers, that these sums were paid in order for them to obtain a waiver, we believe that in those circumstances Benjamin must answer and to say whether or not the proper procedures were followed and whether or not the sponsors who approached him, whether he carried out the necessary due diligence and care to ascertain the applications for waiver were justified,” Lovell said.
Lovell said the UPP is also concerned that several of the names of individuals which the Immigration minister stated were here as visitors were actually working in Antigua & Barbuda on Work Permits issued by the Ministry of Labour and signed by the minister.
He listed the names of several people, who he claimed was employed in the country.
“We believe that for the minister to state that these persons were hear as visitors, knowing fully well that work permits were granted to these persons, that is disingenuous and he is unfit in those circumstances to hold the high office of attorney general with the other attendant portfolios,” the UPP political leader said.