Govt. denies online reports about blank passports

ST JOHN’S, Antigua — The government of Antigua and Barbuda on Monday denied that Cabinet minister Asot Michael was discovered to have blank Antigua and Barbuda passports in his possession when he was arrested in London last year.

In a statement, the government said the false reports to this effect were being spread by Kenneth Rijock and Monte Morris Friesner in online blog postings.

“On 13 April, this claim was rejected as false, in writing, by the Economic Crime Command of the British National Crime Agency,” the statement said.

The government also denied that Michael, the current trade and investment minister, has a cousin that is a “prominent member of the diplomatic corps” and who will be arrested or indicted.

“They also cleverly omitted to name the country in which the arrest or indictment would occur since, of course, they made it up,” the statement said.

The online reports also claim that the diplomat in question was a “co-conspirator” in a counterfeit passport scheme in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The government rejected the assertion as a “scurrilous attack on the reputation of its diplomats by two notorious criminals and hired guns”.

“Further, the government makes it clear that its law enforcement authorities acted swiftly, upon receipt of information from the police authorities in St Vincent that they had uncovered criminal activity, implicating a police officer in Antigua and Barbuda.”

The police officer in question was immediately suspended from duty, his premises searched, and a thorough investigation has begun involving the police forces in St Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda.

A further false claim that 200 blank Antigua and Barbuda passports were entrusted to a Chinese businessman and they have now gone missing was described as “most reckless.”

Rijock also claimed that “thousands of bogus passports were manufactured and sold but “the government dismisses the claim by these two notorious scammers as utterly and completely false.”

“No Antigua and Barbuda passports were ever entrusted to any one at any time other than the official passport office in Antigua, and audits conducted last year and again this year have given full account for all passports,” the statement said.

The government also noted that it is in the process of transitioning from machine readable passports to ones that are fully biometric and incapable of tampering.

The government says it is considering legal options against the two men “for the damage they are trying to do on behalf of their paymasters”.