Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom has refuted claims published within a local news article which suggests that confidential information was leaked to the news agency by senior officials of the Commission of Inquiry (COI).

Sir Hickinbottom also ordered an immediate investigation into the leak which he termed to be a very serious breach of confidential information.

On Wednesday June 16, local news agency Virgin Islands News Online (VINO) published an article entitled “COI document reveals turf war between ex-Governor Jaspert and VI Government” which claimed that a 33-page statement was shared with their newsroom from senior sources within the COI.

Sir Hickinbottom blasted the claims during the resumption of a live inquiry hearing on that said date, after the article was brought to his attention by the COI’s Counsel Bilal Rawat.

“That 33-page document is a reference to the position statement that was filed and served with the COI on behalf of the elected Ministers on the 1st of June 2021. That followed on your invitation to a number of individuals and entities to file position statements on the question of good governance or governance and law enforcement and justice,” Rawat stated.

Document only shared with a handful of people

Rawat said the position papers were only shared with a handful of persons, and said the leak would have had to come from one of the parties outside the COI team.

He said, “Prior to that date it had been shared with two Members of the House of Assembly who are represented by Silk Legal. The COI was informed of that on the 1st of June 2021. It has not yet been published by the COI, and save with one exception, which I will come to now, it has not otherwise been provided to any other participant or individual or body.”

“What has occurred–and this was with the agreement of the Attorney General–was that you directed that the position statement be shared with the Governor’s Office, and the reason for that is something that I highlighted at the Directions Hearing on Monday which was that the content of the position statement had raised issues that, firstly, required obtaining further disclosure from the elected Ministers, but also putting those who are the subject of their criticisms on the notice of the content of the document,” he further explained.

AG directed to submit list of all persons privy to the document by today

The Commissioner while sharing the same sentiments of his Counsel Rawat, instructed the Attorney General to submit to him by today Thursday June 17, a list of all persons who had access to the documents.

“I’ve received comfort, as have you, that the leak did not emanate from anyone in this team. To that extent, this article is simply wrong. But that means that the leak must have come from somewhere else, and it must have come from someone who owes a duty of confidence to me as Commissioner in this Inquiry. I take that extremely seriously. It’s unfortunate that the Attorney General is not represented at the moment. I think this is the first time, this is pure coincidence,” Sir Hickinbottom said.

He added, “This is the first time she’s not been represented at one of these hearings, but I direct the Attorney General and the Governor’s Office to whom this document has been sent in the circumstances that you and I have outlined, to write to me by 9.00 am tomorrow with the list of every single person who has had access to this document and identifying enquiries they have made to ascertain who may have leaked this document.”

The commissioner said once he receives the letters from the Attorney General, he will make any further enquiries that he considers appropriate, and warned that going forward the COI will be conducted on the basis of strict confidentiality.

He said all participants involved in the COI are obligated to maintain full confidentiality.