Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles said a complete audit will be done on the Division of Tourism as reports surfaced of an $8 million payment to an unknown bank account, money intended for a Virgin Airlines account.
“We shall take all steps to ensure recovery of the funds,” Charles said on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Fraud Squad detectives were called in and spent the day at the offices of the Tourism Division, working into the night, and continuing into Wednesday, following revelations about the missing funds by Minority Member Farley Augustine.
Farley, at a press conference at James Park, Scarborough, on Tuesday morning, reported that $8 million intended for Virgin Atlantic’s flights arrangements on the UK/Tobago route, had been wired into an unknown account, and called on Chief Secretary Charles and Tourism Secretary Nadine Stewart Phillips to make a public statement on the matter.
“We are also asking the Chief Secretary to call in the Fraud Squad and if he doesn’t do so, we will do so. We are also calling on the Central Accounts in the Ministry of Finance to step in. We are calling on the Auditor General to also step in and the local auditors to also step in and to verify if due diligence was paid,” he said.
Augustine, Minority Representative for Parlatuvier/L’Anse Fourmi/Speyside, claimed the allegations of fraud involved an employee of the Tourism Division, who reportedly informed staff in the Accounts Department that he had received an email stating that the account number for Virgin Atlantic had been changed and that $8 million was to be wired to a new account, the number of which he provided to staff.
“About a week ago, the Division received a call from Virgin Atlantic saying that they have not received the $8 million. When checks were made, the account in
which the monies were placed, that account was wrong and the $8 million was already withdrawn and the account was closed,” said Augustine.
“This is not a local account, but a foreign account and the monies were withdrawn, and the account closed, and Virgin is still without its $8 million, so the Division is now left in a quandary, having to double on its expenditure in order to secure the Virgin flight,” he added.
On Wednesday, speaking at the post Executive Council media briefing at the Administrative Complex in Calder Hall, Charles said he has received a report on the $8 million payment, and has since requested additional information.
“That report included reference to another incident, that incident was also referred to the Fraud Squad,” he said.
Reports are that in July last year, a payment of $1.6 million was made to an agent in Miami, but that the money went into a bank account that did not belong to the agent. Information on the unknown bank account was again provided to accounting staff by the same Tourism Division employee. Reports are that the matter was hushed up and an additional $1.6 million found to pay the agent.
Charles told reporters on Wednesday that when he receives the additional information he has requested, he will ensure that a comprehensive audit was carried out at the Division, “in an attempt to ascertain whether there is any other issue of a similar nature that needs to be investigated.”
“That audit will provide a basis for a determination as to whether or not any action is required against any public officer,” he said.
He said no one at the Tourism Division has at this time been suspended regarding the matter and any such decisions would be made on the basis of the audit.
“I will decide what steps need to be taken and to the extent that disciplinary action need to be taken against any officer, such action will commence. Everyone is entitled to due process and there have been instances in this country where the state would have lost matters because of procedural errors. I do not propose to make such mistake,” he said.