Published On: Wed, Jan 10th, 2018

Emmanuel’s complaint against Minister Lee fizzles

PHILIPSBURG – Caretaker Vromi-Minister Christophe Emmanuel is scrambling for damage control after the Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a press release on Tuesday stating that there is no criminal investigation underway against Public Health Minister Emil Lee and that the office never received an official complaint that could have triggered such an investigation.

The story goes back to December 19 of last year when the Daily Herald reported the following quote from Emmanuel, made during the radio broadcast Online with Fernando Clark: “The minister misused his government number plate MR4 when he placed it on his personal vehicle following the hurricane. I filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office.”

“There is no criminal investigation ongoing against Mr. Emil Lee at this moment in relation to abuse of car number plates or theft of gasoline, using government fuel bonds to purchase fuel for personal use in the last months of 2017 after Hurricane Irma,” the spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, Norman Serphos said in a statement. “There is also no formal complaint at the public prosecutor’s office against Mr. Emil Lee about this subject.”

The Daily Herald published another story on Tuesday under the headline ‘Prosecution confirms Lee under investigation’ – thereby creating the impression that Emmanuel had filed the complaint and that the Public Prosecutor has deemed it worth his time to take action.

“This is false information,” Minister Emmanuel says in a press release issued by his ministry on Tuesday afternoon under the curious and misleading headline: ‘Correction: prosecutor confirms Lee under investigation’.

And while the Herald quoted Emmanuel verbatim from the Fernando Clark radio broadcast, the statement declares: “At no time did Minister Emmanuel file a criminal complaint at the prosecutor’s office against Minister Lee.”

It is unclear why the ministry is reacting now, while it did not demand a correction of the article the newspaper published on December 19.

Emmanuel takes a swipe at the Daily Herald in the last paragraph of his statement: “On a number of occasions the Daily Herald had published false information, which goes against the ethics and good practices of journalism. Publishing an inaccurate statement without receiving any clarification or information from the minister of Vromi is slanderous and unacceptable.”

Attached to the statement is a copy of a letter Emmanuel addressed on December 8 of last year to the Council of Ministers, Governor Holiday, Members of Parliament and the Prosecutor’s Office.

This letter describes how, according to Minister Emmanuel, Minister Lee put his government number plate MR4 on a private truck. It also states that former Prime Minister William Marlin “vehemently denied” that he had given Lee permission to do this.

From Minister Lee we learned that swapping the number plates was a practical solution in an unusual situation. His government vehicle had been damaged by Hurricane Irma and, rather than spending public funds on a rental car, Lee decided to use his own car. But because only official vehicles were allowed on the road immediately after the hurricane, he came up with the idea to put his MR4 plate on his private truck.

In the letter Emmanuel also questions the purchase of “one and a half barrels of fuel” by Minister Lee for volunteers who were using their own cars for the delivery of relief goods. Emmanuel wanted to know who the recipients of the fuel are and why they had not been given access to a government issued fuel bond book.

Emmanuel concluded the letter with the line: “I am hereby requesting that an official investigation be launched by the prosecutor’s office into this matter as soon as possible.”

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Photo caption: Minister Emmanuel accuses The Daily Herald of publishing “false information.” Photo Hilbert Haar.

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Photo caption: Minister Lee saved the government money by using his private car after Hurricane Irma. Photo Hilbert Haar.