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Cablegate: Cabinet Minister Resigns Over Photos with Anna

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBH #0273/01 0651513
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 061513Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY NASSAU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3926
INFO RUEHBE/AMEMBASSY BELMOPAN 0047
RUEHWN/AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN 5555
RUEHGE/AMEMBASSY GEORGETOWN 3627
RUEHKG/AMEMBASSY KINGSTON 8491
RUEHPU/AMEMBASSY PORT AU PRINCE 3501
RUEHSP/AMEMBASSY PORT OF SPAIN 4661
RUEHDG/AMEMBASSY SANTO DOMINGO 2783
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0399

C O N F I D E N T I A L NASSAU 000273 SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CAR RCBUDDEN

EO 12958 DECL: 02/25/2017
TAGS PREL, PGOV, KCOR, BF
SUBJECT: CABINET MINISTER RESIGNS OVER PHOTOS WITH ANNA
NICOLE SMITH

REF: 05 NASSAU 1711

Classified By: Charge d’Affaires Brent Hardt for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)

1. (U) SUMMARY. Bahamian Minister of Immigration Shane Gibson resigned February 18 following publication of photographs of Gibson embracing Smith in her bed. The photos, which also appeared to show an exchange of gifts, created additional press and opposition scrutiny of potential irregularities in Smith’s dealings with the Ministry of Immigration. These revelations generated pressure resulting in Gibson’s resignation from Cabinet February 18. The Gibson affair is the latest of several scandals to hit the ruling Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) heading to election. The opposition Free National Movement (FNM) has used these scandals to seize the offensive in the run-up to elections. The tense pre-election climate with renewed focus on government scandal will certainly help the opposition, but whether ongoing corruption allegations can overcome a relatively strong economy, job growth and an increase in social programs under the PLP is uncertain. END SUMMARY.

Minister Gibson Resigns Over Photo Scandal
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2. (U) On February 18, Minister of Immigration Shane Gibson resigned his Cabinet seat following publication of photos showing him in a bedroom embrace with celebrity Anna Nicole Smith. The photos, published by The Tribune in the intense media frenzy following Smith’s February 8 death, led to public questions about Gibson’s relationship with Smith and his decision to quickly grant her Bahamian residency outside of the usual lengthy process. New allegations against Gibson included claims he accepted a $25,000 watch from Smith, that Gibson’s father accepted work sailing Smith’s yacht, and that Gibson’s mother was paid $500/week to baby-sit Smith’s daughter. A police investigation under anti-bribery laws is under way. Despite the scandal, Gibson retains his parliamentary seat and may run for reelection.

Wounded PLP Strikes Back on FNM Terms
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3. (U) Continuing to deny any wrongdoing, Gibson and Prime Minister Christie responded to press and opposition criticism by aggressively defending Gibson and attacking a “conspiracy” led by the FNM and the Tribune, the largest circulation daily paper that published the photos. Christie and other PLP candidates have countered by slinging mud over alleged wrongdoing during FNM rule, including a claim the FNM fast-tracked an application for an alleged pedophile. Gibson has threatened a lawsuit against the Tribune and has reportedly engaged counsel.

4. (C) According to a source in the FNM’s leadership, even before the photographs of Gibson in bed with Smith, the FNM would have focused its campaign in part on transparency and corruption in the ruling party. The FNM had alleged irregular visa issuances, lack of transparency in financial accounts, and possible corruption in a government housing development. Some observers feel that the PLP’s delay in calling elections was intended to diffuse concerns over these allegations, and that the renewed focus on Gibson and Smith ensured further delay before elections are called. NOTE: Under the Bahamian Constitution, Parliament must be dissolved and elections called no later than May 22, with elections held within 90 days thereafter. Traditionally, elections are not called during Lent. END NOTE.

Gibson and Press Won’t Go Away
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5. (C) COMMENT: The Gibson-Anna Nicole scandal gives the FNM just the focus it hoped for in a campaign already designed to question the PLP’s integrity. Whether such a strategy can overcome a relatively strong economy, job growth and an increase in social programs under the PLP is uncertain. Regardless, it must be frustrating to the PLP that Gibson continued his relationship with Smith against party advice after the scandal first broke in the Fall. Regardless of party grumbling about Gibson, his strong constituency support -- he won his seat by a landslide in
2002 and he enjoys the patronage of political heavyweight Bishop Neil Ellis -- will ensure that Gibson stays in the PLP’s plans.

6. (C) The international media circus surrounding Smith and Gibson will likely continue for some time, keeping the Bahamas in the international limelight for better or worse. On the plus side, the Bahamas has received more free advertising than they could ever have hoped to buy, and taxi operators are already cashing in by offering visits to the former Smith residence. On the negative side, many poorly informed commentators have given air time to claims that the Bahamas is awash in drugs and corruption. Items sure to attract continued international media intention include: scheduled hearings regarding ownership of Horizons, the Nassau home where Smith lived; a Bahamian coroner’s inquest into the death of Smith’s son; potential fights over keeping Smith’s body in The Bahamas; and the ongoing police investigation into potential bribery of Gibson. The media has set up camp across the street from her former residence on Eastern Road and, on hearing days, on the courthouse steps. While easy to discount the tabloid journalism surrounding these issues, it is encouraging that the local press -- too often cautious with government and lacking strong in investigative journalists -- has been able to help hold a powerful member of the government accountable for allegedly accepting gifts and providing favoritism in the execution of his duties. END COMMENT. HARDT

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