Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Hon. Vincent Wheatley has defended the Cabinet of the Virgin Islands’ decision to consider belongership under the Fast Track Programme in 2019 for a convicted rapist serving time in a U.S. jail.
During Tuesday’s September 28 Commission of Inquiry
) hearing, Counsel to the Commission Mr. Bilal Rawat read out the notes of a Cabinet meeting which indicated that criminal number one was serving a 10 year jail time for rape in the U.S.
The Cabinet had been informed by Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie
that the U.S. court authorities were willing to have him transferred to the BVI to serve his time.
also said that he was not condoning the crime, but the BVI was the only home the applicant knew.
“The Premier mentioned that there was another case involving [criminal number two], who would be applying for similar consideration. That person was not born in the territory but had lived here for over 30 years,” Mr. Rawat read.
At the same time, Cabinet’s Chairman, Ag. Governor Mrs. Rosalie Adams said while they want to be sympathetic to these persons, the BVI should not be a dumping ground, and it should not be considered a home for non-law abiding citizens.
The decision for criminal number one, which was before the Cabinet at the time, was then deferred for a three week period. It is not clear whether criminal number one was eventually approved. It is also not clear if criminal number two’s application was ever taken before Cabinet.
Responding to the grilling, Hon. Wheatley said criminal number two, whose crime was not revealed, he had known all his life and went to school with him.
“We just thought it was the humane thing to do in this case, and these are things you do almost against your better judgement, so to speak. The other one, [the rapist, referred to as criminal number one], I know his parents very well, these are upstanding persons. We were just trying to be sympathetic to their cause to have their son here with them. They are good people, who may have been caught up for some reason in a situation,” he remarked.
Attorney Rawat then asked the minister: “What is the basis on which Cabinet can reasonably reach a conclusion that a rapist should have the sacred gift of belongership?
Wheatley replied: “His family is here in the BVI. It was more of a humanitarian gesture; if I am not mistaken, the person was supposed to serve the jail time here, so it is not like we are putting them out of jail. Things happen in life.”
Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom
then interjected: “When you say this was on humanitarian grounds, when the Cabinet – because the board was not involved – came to assess the applications which you said they had to do, did they have any guidelines, written guidelines for considering the applications?”
Wheatley replied that he did not recall any written guidelines; however, there were certain documents that was needed, such as one’s police record, birth certificate to accompany the application.
Referring to the convicted rapist, Hon. Wheatley said: “I don’t recall if this person was ever granted belonger status, it was deferred, and during that period of deferment I am not sure what happened; I really don’t recall.”
Mr. Rawat also pointed out that for someone to qualify as per the law, they had to be ordinarily resident in the BVI for at least 20 years and it does not allow time in prison as an excuse.
“Now you have two serious criminals serving prison time outside the jurisdiction, how did you assess the notion of ordinarily resident?” to which Hon. Wheatley replied that he could not say how long they had been in prison and out of the jurisdiction.
“It is very difficult to understand how any rational Cabinet could come to a conclusion that someone serving and they have been convicted, qualifies as an individual of good character,” Mr. Rawat continued his grilling.
Wheatley said: “Like I said, other considerations were given in this particular case like family ties. I think when we envisioned the Fast Track [initiative] I don’t think anyone expected something like this to show up. I think it surprised all of us. It sprung upon us, and we had to make a decision; it was not an easy decision to make.”
Hon. Wheatley also confirmed that in the case of the rapist, the family went directly to the Premier, bypassing the Immigration Department who handled those applications.
“Clearly the gentleman was not in the BVI at the time, so the parents who are here would have gone to the Premier to make representation on his behalf, “can you consider this from your heart” I think that’s what happened."
The minister added, "we could look back in hindsight and say maybe we should have done X, Y, Z." He said: "You keep using the word ‘the rapist’ and I have to see the person as a human being that made a mistake. We have to show our human side.”