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The trials and tribulations of antigua and Calvin Ayre

Calvin Ayre.com has published a lengthy article on a scathing report by the Democracy Institute on dubious US government tactics in the long-running World Trade Organisation dispute with Antigua over online gambling bans, and the five-year criminal pursuit of Calvin Ayre personally by the Justice Department.

InfoPowa readers will recall that despite repeated defeats in WTO dispute panels, the United States has yet to reach a satisfactory accommodation with Antigua and Barbuda, although the serious charges brought against Ayre personally have largely been abandoned in favour of a misdemeanour settlement and the return of his Bodog domain…but not the reported $67 million officials seized, which went to Treasury.

Authored by Dr. Patrick Basham, who founded the US and UK based Democracy Institute, the review, titled “US Do As I Say, Not As I Do: How The WTO, Antigua & A Canadian Overcame American Hypocrisy On Free Trade” deals in depth with the 14-year-long dispute with Antigua and US allegedly bullying tactics as it went against WTO principles in its efforts to destroy online gambling, at that time centred on Antigua.

The review estimates that the cost to Antigua's miniscule $1 billion economy has been more than $250 million, but opines that the real damage is to the trading, political and moral reputation of the United States around the globe.

Basham examines the 5-year pursuit of Calvin Ayre from 2012 by the Justice Department in equal detail, noting that the indictment named the Bodog Entertainment Group, despite the fact that Bodog’s US-facing operations had been run by the Morris Mohawk Gaming Group under licence since 2007, and that Bodog had officially left the US market in 2011.

The Bodog domain was also seized, although at the time it was actually owned by Sanctum IP Holdings, an Antiguan company.

More worrying, perhaps, is Basham's claim that US officials apparently took advantage of the fact that indicted individuals would probably agree to pay up rather than fight the might of the DoJ in the courts, and that Ayre was one of the few who was prepared to stand his ground against indictments that “…were not built upon firm, let alone strong, legal foundations.”.

The review claims that law enforcement officials tried to intimidate Ayre years before the indictments against him were filed, and that prosecutors “…covertly reached out to Ayre through respective third parties … including Ayre’s known business associates and industry contacts, to ‘encourage’ Ayre to make a US$350 million payment to the US Treasury.”

Basham found that this sort of conduct “…conveyed an unambiguous message: a ‘voluntary’ payment was necessary to pre-empt an indictment in US federal court.” He suggests that this was akin to gangsters demanding protection money from businesses.

Ayre refused to submit to these threats, and in July this year prosecutors finally withdrew the original felony charges made against the Antigua-based entrepreneur, and returned the Bodog domain after a $100,000 settlement on a misdemeanour charge was agreed.

The personal cost to Ayre has been substantial; he has had to curtail travel and lived with the stress and anxiety of the indictment hanging over his head for five years. The prosecution has impaired his business, marred his reputation and forced him to incur legal costs of $8.2 million.

That’s in addition to the loss of $67 million seized by US officials and Ayre's voluntary compensation paid to players impacted by the seized funds.

Basham also suggests that the DoJ actions against Ayre made him more vulnerable to criminal activity, citing a 2013 plot to kidnap and ransom him which was averted when Ayre became aware of the plan.

The Basham review concludes that the modus operandi of American prosecutors “…may be characterized as unnerving to anyone, American or foreign, who respects the rule of law, domestically and internationally.

“The American approach may equally unnerve those who appreciate their own, and respect others’, constitutionally-enshrined civil liberties.

“The larger cautionary tale, however, is for the US federal government. Future domestic American policymaking should not similarly spill over into international rule-breaking and mistaken, ill-advised prosecutions. Otherwise, America may be viewed increasingly, at least on the trade and legal fronts, as a poor global citizen.”

The Democratic Institute is planning an event in the WTO's home city of Geneva on September 27 to draw attention to the Basham report. The annual WTO Public Forum will be taking place in that timeframe.

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