Investment and Trade Minister resigns amid new scandal
ST JOHN’S – Trade and Investment Minister Asot Michael has tendered his resignation from the newly formed Antigua and Barbuda government, amid speculation that he was among Caribbean politicians who had received bribes from a British investor.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has already indicated that he has accepted the resignation and asked Governor General Sir Rodney Williams to revoke the appointment.
Michael’s departure from the Cabinet is the second occasion within a seven-month period that he has had to forgo his ministerial position. Last October, he was arrested in London while on his way to a conference in France.
Prime Minister Browne subsequently removed him as the minister of tourism, economic development, investment and energy, but the 49-year-old rebounded to successfully contest the March 21 general election on behalf of the ruling Antigua and Barbuda labour Party (ABLP).
This time round, Michael, who was born in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, has denied the accusation that unfolded in a British High Court last Friday in a matter involving British financier Peter Virdee, whose telephone conversations with his business partner, Dieter Trutschler, in 2016, had been recorded by German authorities.
According to the transcript of the document revealed in the High Court, Virdee alleges that Michael had asked him for two million dollars, as well as to buy a car for his mother.
But in his resignation letter to Prime Minister Browne, the Parliamentary Representative of St Peter’s, said he had become “aware that recent media reports, emerging from Court proceedings in the United Kingdom, to which I am not a party, have caused anxiety in some quarters of our society and are being used by opposition political elements to seek to discredit me and the Government.
“I emphasise that I am not a party to the Court proceedings in the United Kingdom which have been reported in the media, nor have I been charged with any wrong doing. The media reports refer to recordings of conversations between persons other than myself, and I cannot be held responsible for their utterances”.
Michael, who said that the interests of the people of Antigua and Barbuda and the government “have always been, of preeminent concern to me throughout my political life,” said he would not allow his work over the past 21 years “to be tarnished by political actors who are determined to pull down the Government and the Party by besmirching me.”
Michael said he was therefore submitting his resignation so as to allow “the Government to fulfil its obligations to the people, without any distraction.
“I will continue to work assiduously in the interest of the people of my constituency, and to do all in my power to counter and disprove allegations made against me. I am determined that the calumnies against me shall not stand.
“I place on record, Prime Minister, my deep appreciation for the honour you afforded me to serve in your administration,’ Michael wrote in his resignation letter.
Earlier, the leader of the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), Harold Lovell, called for Michael’s “immediate” removal from the government, saying that the controversy “once again drags the name of Antigua and Barbuda into the mud and Antigua and Barbuda cannot take any more of this bad publicity.
“It is absolutely important that Mr Michael should do the right thing and he should resign immediately. Failing an immediate resignation Prime Minister Gaston Browne ought to relive him immediately of his responsibilities,” Lovell said. (CMC)