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'I'Ll Set The Record Straight Over Real Estate'

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Disgruntled investors have told the Canadian government that “the Bahamas justice system appears to be stuck in neutral” in handling their complaints over a $52 million real estate development, blasting perceived ‘inaction’ by both the current and former administrations.

photo

Fred Mitchell

In the letter that appears to have sparked a Canadian government warning about Bahamian real estate transactions, Christopher and Jane Bain, homeowners at the strife-torn Oceania Heights project in Exuma, complained to Canada’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Diane Ablonczy, that government officials in this nation were even refusing to take their calls on the issue.

Tribune Business obtained a copy of their July 13, 2012, letter just as Fred Mitchell, minister of foreign affairs and immigration, pledged that he and the Government would “address” both the Canadian investment advisory and the Oceania Heights dispute. The warning says real estate and investment-related disputes in the Bahamas may be “prolonged and costly to resolve”.

Suggesting that the warning did “not truly represent the picture in the Bahamas”, when asked by Tribune Business whether he and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would respond, Mr Mitchell replied: “There’s no question about that.

“I spoke to the Attorney General this morning, and I intend to address it. My own feeling is that there are judicial disputes in Canada that are equally as tortuous, so I’m not sure it [the investment advisory] truly represents the picture in the Bahamas. So I have the responsibility to ensure the record is set straight.”

Mr Mitchell indicated he was surprised that the Canadian government would issue such a warning, seemingly at the behest of its citizens, without probing more deeply into the situation on the ground.

“I’ll have more to say on Monday [today],” he added in a brief interview with Tribune Business from Grand Bahama. “What I was concerned about was that I first saw the piece in the paper at Lynden Pindling International Airport, and a couple of non-nationals of the country saw the headline and also became concerned about it.

“I was concerned about it when I saw it, it’s not a good thing and needs to be addressed.”

The Bains’ letter indicates that they, and other Oceania Heights homeowners engaged in an ongoing dispute with the developers, Howard and Donna Obront, and their Bahamian attorney, Anthony Thompson, have become increasingly frustrated with the alleged failure of successive governnments to even acknowledge their concerns.

They also claim that Canada’s High Commissioner for Jamaica, Stephen Hallihan, whose portfolio covers the Bahamas, has made repeated inquiries of Bahamian officials on their behalf but “to no avail”.

Noting that Mr Hallihan had suggested they write to Ms Ablonczy, in her capacity as foreign affairs minister, the Bains said: “To our knowledge there are at least 20 Canadians (several from your home province of Alberta), including the two of us, who are involved in this situation. There are roughly an equal number of American citizens who are also involved, and, like us, they are reaching out to their government for help and intervention.

“For over two years we have been co-operating with the Bahamas Police in their investigation........., but for one reason or another the Bahamas justice system appears to be stuck in neutral.”

Tribune Business revealed in February 2012 how some homeowners at the 125-lot Oceania Heights development were alleging difficulties in obtaining title documents to their properties, and questioning whether due Stamp Duty payments were being passed to the Public Treasury.

Other claims were that Oceania had twice sold the same land to two different buyers, something the developers admitted had occurred “once” due to a “clerical error”.

In response, the Obronts and Mr Thompson accused a "small minority" of Oceania residents of pursuing “a smear campaign” against them in a bid to seize control of the project and force them out. In denying all the allegations against them they also questioned why, if the Bains and others had such a strong case against them, they had not taken their complaints to the Supreme Court via a civil action.

Asserting that all homeowners had “crystal clear title” to their property in Oceania Heights, the Obronts and Mr Thompson also denied claims that 11 lots, which are the subject of a legal dispute now at the Privy Council, had been sold to third-party buyers.

The Bains, though, said in their letter that successive Bahamian governments had “stood by and let this situation continue”.

“What is particularly perplexing is that the Bahamas Police and senior officials within the Government of the Bahamas know all of this, and have known about it for roughly two years,” the Bains said.

“Yet despite two years of writing countless letters, meeting with senior officials, spending thousands and thousands of dollars on lawyers, nothing happens.”

They added that their attorney had brought the Oceania Heights matter to former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham's personal attention, but “he did nothing to address the situation”.

Now over to the Christie administration. “When the new government took office earlier this year, we took heart and brought renewed vigour to our pursuit,” the Bains told the Canadian government.

“We have written (June 19, 2012, by registered mail and by e-mail) to the new Attorney General, Allyson Maynard-Gibson, to inform her of this situation but have yet to hear back from her. We have once again called Michael Smith, the Bahamas High Commissioner here in Ottawa, and now he will not take our calls.”

The Obronts previously confirmed to Tribune Business that attorney Mr Thompson had been questioned several times by the Royal Bahamas Police Force in relation to matters surrounding Oceania Heights.

However, he has not been charged, and the Obronts have accused the homeowners opposing them of using the police, and threat of a criminal investigation, as leverage to force them into an unfavourable settlement. They contend it is a civil, not criminal, matter.

The Bains, in their letter to the Canadian government, said the police were awaiting a "green light" on how to proceed from Garvin Gaskins in the Attorney General's Office. “One of our colleague property/home owners, recently travelled to Nassau and, in the company of two of our lawyers, met with Mr Gaskins,” they wrote.

“Mr Gaskins explained that because the police file is so large it is taking considerable time to process it, and the reason for the delay is that the photocopying is as yet incomplete. This explanation was met with explicit disbelief, and Mr Gaskins will no longer take our calls.”

While Tribune Business was unable to reach Mrs Maynard-Gibson for comment before press time, one of the attorneys present at the meeting with Mr Gaskins confirmed the "size of the police file" explanation. Speaking on condition of anonymity, though, they did not recall the "photocopying" issue.

Describing Mr Hallihan as “extraordinarily helpful”, the Bains' letter added: “He has spoken to several senior Bahamian government officials. Unfortunately, and through no fault of his, this has been to no avail, which is undoubtedly why he suggested that we write to you.

“Let us say in closing, the Bahamian economy relies heavily on foreign investment. For investors, the need for confidence in the country in which they make an investment is essential. As we are sure you now understand, our experience to date has not been a positive one.”

And they told Ms Ablonczy: “We are bringing this matter to your attention because we are optimistic that with the change of government there may be a fresh opportunity in which a few words from somebody of your stature in the Canadian government might make all the difference.

“A prominent US Senator has promised us that he will be writing the new Prime Minister, Perry Christie (who is also the Minister of Finance), to advise him that if matters continue as they have to this date that he will be recommending that the US government place an investment advisory regarding the Bahamas on the US government’s main Web site.

“We are asking you if you, or Stephen Hallihan, on your behalf, would also contact the new Prime Minister, Perry Christie, and/or the new Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Allyson Maynard Gibson, to ask about this situation and what they intend to do to ensure justice is done, perhaps indicating in the same breath that the Canadian government will always take steps to inform and protect its citizens with regard to perilous situations around the world.”

Comments

Bril 8 years ago

Total rubbish. Canadians and Americans always believe the world is suppose to move for them. Only in the Bahamas we always jumping and skipping for them. Yes the process may not be going as they had hoped but who really knows the true story behind these claims. Everyone involved in that investment appear to be foreign and are at each others throats over some petty gated community quarrel. Honestly the Bahamian government has better things to be doing than dealing with matters that responsible adults should have to sense to deal with. It looks like an attempt to embarrass the country. Why didn't they go to the Police Commissioner or the Chief Justice first? Why try to make an international story out of it? And then rather than their Foreign Office speak to our Foreign Office the Canadian's issue some report. Typical international bullying. I find it hard to believe that the HC in Jamaica spoke to Mr. Mitchell and nothing was done.This is a private matter between private investors and it should remain that way. Its disgusting how they come and want to pressure our government into positions. The FNM government at the time and the PLP government now had and still have a hell of a lot of problems to deal with for its own people. Many people have civil cases that have taken quite a long time before the courts. But because these people think that their interests are more important than others they want threaten and squeeze our small nation. That's why I say we, really have to look at other means of economic sustainability in this country. We are always at the mercy of these investors who so arrogantly want to dictate policy in our country. I would agree that the court process is not the swiftest or the most efficient. But I don't appreciate this attempt by this couple to try and make investors feel that the Bahamas is unfriendly or unhelpful. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have given more away in this country than we should, but anyhow that's another matter.

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krd99999@aol.com 1 year, 6 months ago

Well I was looking to purchase a home in the Bahamas but after reading all of this I would never invest a dollar into the Bahamas because it’s obvious there’s nothing but thieves down there so I’ll keep my 4 million and buy a house else where so I know I will receive a title to my property . I understand that there are thieves everywhere but the problem here is the government is allowing it to happen that’s the real problem . You people will see that investors like me will take our money else where and your economy will truly hurt . It will be a slow process but if I’m taking my 4 million else where you can see the decline is in motion!!!!!

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TalRussell 8 years ago

When The Tribune makes such 'gospel truth' claims it is most import that the natives in their own mind's read it and then walk away, knowing darn well that it is in this newspaper's preference and financial interests , that the red shirts be return to the seats of power. 

My Comrades no matter what you do, do not allow The Tribune to ever be allowed to get away with their journalistic pretenses, of ever reporting on the truthfulness about Prime Minister Christie's government.

Comrades not in your lifetime will it happen that The Tribune moves to practicing real journalism, away from such open willingness to act as agents of the elite red shirts. They are nothing short off adulterated derogatory peddlers of negative public relations, aimed directly at PM Christie, inspired on by their deep love for one red shirt in particular.

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by TalRussell

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TalRussell 8 years ago

Why are we inviting foreigners build homes in Bahamaland, but away from the areas where the natives live?

Soon we will be totally gated out., while they're all gated in?

When is PM Christie going to tell them all, that the natives are demanding 'full access' to every single one our beaches? That you can't come here and block access to our beaches.

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by TalRussell

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concernedcitizen 8 years ago

yeah yeah ,lets crank up the anti foriegn rhetoric ,we don,t need those evil foriegners ,we are special god blessed people ,,of course i,m being sarcastic ,,with out the foriegners it will be back to grunt,grits,and gravey ,,and please lets not go on about fishin and farmin ,,we do not have the rich soil and unless we let immigrants in there will be no one to work farms ..you think our soft i phone toting offspring are going toil in the hot sun ,,lmao ...with cuba opening up ,PGC keeps warning us , we better pray for the" earl under da sea "

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JoesSound 8 years ago

The foreigners are afraid of the native crime rate which is why they try to stay away from the main population. Its a shame but its true, its nothing personal. When they build it puts bahamian people to work, when they maintain their place they buy things from bahamian stores, when they come there they pay bahamian airport fees, when they come there they buy food from bahamian stores, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

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concernedcitizen 8 years ago

its a difficult quandry ,although we got majority rule ,we are still dependant upon foriegners for our very existence ,,any bahamians that thinks otherwise are dilusional ,,thats why anti foriegn rhetoric is extremly friegthening !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

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flybunny 7 years, 8 months ago

I am sad you feel that way... I would love to own a home in Exuma, I want to learn your culture.... but your comment makes us think that we truly are not welcome.

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Observer 8 years ago

Agreed, agreed, agreed; this is uneducated rubbish. Justice must be meted by the judiciary, and certainly not by the executive or legislative branches of government. These complainants are hiding something crucial to the matter at hand. They are attempting to use strong arm tactics to accomplish their goal. Makes one wonder why people from the two great western democracies would employ this kind of tactic. They would rather destroy a local industry than to wait for the wheel(s) of justice to turn; or is it that they have no respect for BAHAMAS? So who needs the trouble mongers? The farther the distance, the better will be the acquaintance. That's all folks.

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dnedzel 8 years ago

My father invested his entire retirement in property at Oceania Heights on Exuma between 1999 and 2005. This money was intended to provide for his daughter who has a medical condition. The developer said it is a wonderful investment opportunity where the investment would grow very rapidly in a short period, exempt from Bahamian taxes. The developer took my father's money, sent him sales invoices and statements showing the amount paid in full, but never gave him the title to the properties. My father spent the last two years of his life trying to get the title to the property. Without that he couldn't sell the property to get his money back.

Since my father's death in 2008, I have been trying to get title to the property so that we could at least get his investment back - even without any earnings for the 10+ years it has been invested. The developer refuses to send me the title even though I can prove my father paid him for the properties in full. This has been going on for 4 years - for a total of 6 years we have been trying to get what we paid for. All our money is gone and we have nothing to show for it and no way to get that money back.

Here is how I think of this: if I buy a car, and I give the money to the seller, but they won't give me the keys, then I would go to the police because I was robbed, that's fraud. Yes, we have gone thru attorneys, we have been working thru the Bahamian legal system all along. I am not asking for special treatment, and I think I have been patient (6 years worth) - I am just asking for us to get what we paid for.

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concernedcitizen 8 years ago

as a bahamian , i know your pain . i got sued in a property dispute that went on for years ...it seemed to never come before a judge ,just my high priced lawyer and the guy who sued me high priced lawyer going into a room and talking to the judge . the lawyers would then come out and say the judge was reveiwing it and there went another 10, grand ,all the time my lawyer kept telling me i had a great case and would recieve large damages ..this went on for years , and my lawyer could never say when there would be a final outcome ,,i got the feeling they were in cahoots and would drag it out as long as we paid their fees ..i finally quit with the courts took my losses and moved on ...............

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