Former Education and Culture Minister Myron Walwyn was arrested on Tuesday and charged with breach of trust by a public officer in connection with the Elmore Stoutt High School perimetre wall, but he quickly released a statement defending himself and raising questions about the long-running police investigation into the project.
“This is a charge that I will vigorously defend as it does not enjoy the benefit of facts,” Mr. Walwyn wrote in a statement posted to Facebook on Tuesday. “In my humble opinion, it is manifestly unjust.”
Mr. Walwyn went on to express confidence in the judicial system to render a “fair and just decision” on the matter, but his statement nevertheless drew a response from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions before the end of the day.
“The statement, among other things, seeks to adversely influence the potential array of jurors who will eventually decide his fate and the fate of other persons similarly charged,” the office alleged. “Such rhetoric only serves to undermine the course of justice in the territory.”
The wall project — which commenced in December 2014 but was never completed — has faced criticism for years. In a 2018 report, Auditor General Sonia Webster blasted it for budget overruns and contract splitting, among other issues.
Ms. Webster alleged that the then-Ministry of Education and Culture overspent and ultimately failed to obtain good value for taxpayers’ money in part because the project was split into more than 70 work orders and 15 petty contracts.
In March 2019, police announced that they had launched an investigation into the project, but for the next three years they provided few updates and announced no arrests.
Last year, however, Commission of Inquiry Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom revisited Ms. Webster’s report in detail and used it as the basis for grilling public officials including Mr. Walwyn about the project. In his April report, Sir Gary echoed some of Ms. Webster’s criticisms and recommended that the police investigation be allowed to run its course. About two months after the release of the COI report, police announced in June that businessman Kelvin Thomas, of Chalwell Estate, had been charged in connection with the project.
He was accused of obtaining property by deception, making a false statement to a public officer, and possession of the proceeds of criminal conduct, police said at the time. Last month, police announced that Lorna Stevens, who as assistant secretary in Mr. Walwyn’s ministry helped manage the wall project, had been charged with breach of trust by a public officer and released on bail.
In Mr. Walwyn’s Tuesday statement, he noted that he has been an attorney for 16 years and has “utmost confidence” in the VI’s judicial system to render a “fair and just decision” on the matter.
But he also raised questions about the police probe that led to his arrest. According to Mr. Walwyn, then-Police Commissioner Michael Matthews had said that the police investigation was completed in early 2020 and that its findings were sent to the director of public prosecutions to “decide whether the evidence warranted a pursuance of prosecution.”
“Though this matter was publicly discussed by the commissioner on talk shows and various medias during its process, to date no update has been given to the public about their findings following its conclusion,” Mr. Walwyn stated. “It raises the question as to why a completed investigation by the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force that was sent to the DPP’s Office could still find itself as a subject of the Commission of Inquiry as an open investigation.
“Again, it’s worth noting that the Commission of Inquiry recommended that the investigation should continue — the investigation which according to [Mr. Matthews] was concluded in early 2020. I am left to believe that the original investigation did not yield their desired results.”
The Office of the DPP, however, took issue with Mr. Walwyn’s account. “Contrary to Mr. Walwyn’s assertions, an incomplete investigative case file was submitted in 2020, and the same was quickly returned to the [Royal Virgin Islands Police Force] to conduct further investigations,” the office stated.
“However, the case files were never completed by the RVIPF at that stage.
The decision was made to bring in an independent team of financial investigators from the United Kingdom to review the investigation, and that review commenced in early 2021.”
This review, the office added, was carried out to ensure that the probe was completed “fairly, transparently and to standard.”
“The Office of the DPP has always operated in accordance to the law, and strongly refutes the erroneous and unfounded statements that otherwise has been done,” the office stated.
In his statement, Mr. Walwyn acknowledged “procedural issues” with the wall project, but he sought to downplay them. “I also do not think that one could find a previously done government project that was faultlessly managed,” he wrote.
“As such, we can all agree that we must continue to work on improving the way we manage all government projects.” Mr. Walwyn added that he does not believe that any of the procedural issues met the criteria for breach of trust or justified “such a charge for anyone who was involved in the management of the project during its normal course.”
“If the intentions are truly to help the BVI to be better able to manage its affairs, I am not convinced that labelling its hardworking citizens as corrupt without concrete evidence and damaging their reputations, livelihoods and sense of decency is a productive approach,” he wrote. “I repudiate any such label being placed on me.”
He added that he “worked extremely hard every day” while serving in office for almost eight years. “Above all, I served you honestly,” he wrote. “To now have this vexatious charge levied against me is extremely damning and troubling to me.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the Police Information Office confirmed Mr. Walwyn’s arrest in connection with the wall project, but it didn’t provide further information.