AS a Bahamas government delegation jetted to Hong Kong over the weekend, to meet with and conduct a due diligence investigation of the conglomerate that wants to purchase Baha Mar, it would seem by announcements being made in Nassau that the trip is only a formality.
Not only does the Chow Tai Fook enterprise (CTFE) want to purchase the Cable Beach resort, but it also wants a gaming licence to operate the casino.
“We are going to meet with the potential owners of the property. We are going to take a look at their operations, and we are going to take a look at the casino operations also in Macau that they do run now,” said Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe, a member of the four-member delegation, led by Attorney General Allyson Maynard Gibson. As for the casino, presumably the delegation will also meet with “the groups and individuals they intend to have who will run the business”.
Although, the deal will not (or certainly should not) be consummated before the due diligence has been completed, it was claimed that a few days ago – even before the group set out on its due diligence trip – the Prime Minister had a meeting with CTFE when the company gave a presentation to two investing Bahamian businessmen and Mr Christie told them of their intention to open 700 rooms in Baha Mar by March next year.
Recalling what this country went through in the drug years – from which it has never fully recovered — and the reports that we now have in our possession on this new group and their various associations and associates, we hope that the Christie government is not going to make it possible for history to repeat itself.
We recall the late seventies when The Tribune started to get disturbing reports of strange activities going on at Norman’s Cay. We made enquiries and were told that International Dutch Resources, owned by a wealthy German had bought up land on the small island and was doing business there. We were assured - even by his lawyers — that the German’s business was “legit”. However, the reports kept coming in and the suggestions of the suspected activities on the island were becoming more disturbing.
Norman’s Cay was a popular anchorage for visiting yachts, with an attractive club house and marina. Several wealthy residents had made their homes there. It was an idyllic hideaway. According to officials, the most sinister thing being done on the cay by International Dutch Resources was that it was buying up as much land as it could.
It is true that Carlos Enrique “Joe” Lehder was born of a German father. But his mother was Colombian. And, if the Pindling government had done its due diligence, it would have discovered that International Dutch Resources was built from the proceeds of a very successful drug running operation. If it had also done proper due diligence it would have discovered that Lehder had a criminal rap sheet in the US. He started as a stolen car dealer. He had served a federal prison sentence for car theft in Danbury, Connecticut. It was there that he and a cell mate hit on the idea of making their wealth by drug smuggling. For sometime, on release from prison, they were petty drug smugglers until they built up their wealth to compete with the best of them. And then they went their separate ways.
That is when Lehder came to The Bahamas. He obviously quietly made friends with the right Bahamians, and eventually set up his kingdom at Norman’s Cay, where he boasted that he belonged “to the club” and was untouchable. However, the rumours started to rumble so loudly and The Tribune continued to ask question about this “Dutch” company and its German owner, that one day parliamentarian Norman Solomon anchored his boat off Norman’s Cay and swam ashore only to be held up at gun point by Lehder’s armed guards and ferocious dogs. Mr Solomon returned to Nassau and told parliament that Norman’s Cay was one of the largest drug smuggling operations in this part of the world. For that revelation his life was threatened and his car burned.
In 1979, the Opposition challenged Prime Minister Pindling to explain publicly why drug trafficking “continued unabated” in The Bahamas.
The rejection of the Opposition’s application for a committee to investigate Lehder’s illegal activities at Norman’s Cay was of itself a major scandal.
The 1984 Commission of Inquiry eventually appointed to investigate the criminal enterprise said it was “alarmed at the extent to which persons in the public service had been corrupted by money derived from the drug trade” – certain members of the police force, immigration and customs, even as high up as permanent secretary and minister, it concluded. Lehder and his crew were certainly on more than speaking terms with the town’s political “movers” and “shakers” and right doors opened easily for them.
The Commission said there was every reason to believe that in both the public and private sectors the “material benefits of the drug trade caused persons to wink their eyes or look the other way.” The Bahamas had truly earned the reputation of “a nation for sale”.
We all know how this country suffered during the narco-dollar period – and is still suffering from the inherited backlash. And so, it would be a grave error should this government “wink its eyes and look the other way” in the investigation of the sale of Baha Mar.
Already we are overwhelmed with crime in this country. The Bahamas cannot afford to be associated with anyone or any consortium that would have any affiliation— no matter how remote — with the notorious Triad gang.
And what is the Triad? It is described as one of many branches of Chinese transnational crime organisations based in the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and in countries with significant Chinese populations.
Just as in the days of Joe Lehder, The Tribune is receiving much troubling information. Maybe while our delegation is in Hong Kong it should do a special check of all the persons listed in The Tribune of Monday, November 7, and find out how they are all interconnected. We certainly are doing our due diligence. Prime Minister Christie should not want a wrong decision of this potential magnitude to be his legacy.
And so, based on Mr Wilchcombe’s misinformation – “when Sol Kerzner came to the Bahamas he couldn’t get a license in the US because of some speculation, but it didn’t stop him from putting together a major company, and it proved to be a great fit for The Bahamas” – it shouldn’t be assumed that CTFE can do the same. The rumours now engulfing CTFE never came near Sol Kerzner.
On Monday, Sir Sol told us: “We were licensed to operate casinos in the USA, and did in fact operate the resorts international casino in Atlantic City for a couple of years in the late ‘90s as well as the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut and have never been denied a licence anywhere.” Can CTFE or its associates say the same?