By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Baha Mar’s new owner yesterday slammed efforts to link it to Chinese organised crime gangs as “baseless, unfounded and untrue”, reiterating its commitment to the “highest integrity” wherever it operated.
Graeme Davis, president of Chow Tai Fook Enterprises’ (CTFE) Bahamian subsidiary, told Tribune Business that the global conglomerate with $60 billion in total assets was focused on strong corporate governance wherever it operated.
“We certainly want the Bahamian people to know we operate all our businesses and subsidiaries with the highest integrity and good corporate governance, and the accusations we have read our baseless, unfounded and untrue,” Mr Davis told this newspaper.
“We have $60 billion in assets around the globe. We operate with the highest integrity, with excellent corporate governance, and in partnership with governments around the world.
“We look forward to partnering with the Ministry of Tourism, the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board, the business community and the people of the Bahamas, and them joining with us in celebrating and supporting the opening of Baha Mar.”
Efforts to portray CTFE, the Hong Kong-headquartered company owned by the Cheng family, as an ‘unsuitable’ purchaser of Baha Mar have been led by the Government’s political rivals, who have suggested it should not receive a casino licence.
The concerns were raised first by FNM candidate and former Baha Mar Board member, Dionisio D’Aguilar, who based them on the Chengs’ continued business partnership with Macau gaming ‘king’, Stanley Ho.
These stemmed from a May 18, 2009, report by the US state of New Jersey’s gaming enforcement division, dealing with a proposed Macau casino joint venture between MGM Mirage and Stanley Ho’s daughter, Pansy.
As disclosed by Tribune Business, that report focused on concerns that Macau’s VIP gaming rooms were vulnerable to exploitation by Chinese/Asian crime gangs known as Triads.
Mr D’Aguilar’s claims sought to link the Cheng family and CTFE’s publicly traded subsidiary, New World Development, to these activities via their investment in Mr Ho’s STDM and SJM companies.
However, while the New Jersey regulator’s report made adverse findings against Mr Ho, describing him as “unsuitable”, no such conclusions were reached about the Cheng family or their companies.
And CTFE has emphasised that neither Mr Ho, nor his companies, are involved in their plans for Baha Mar, having moved quickly to disassociate itself and its principals from the Macau gaming scene.
Mr Davis, meanwhile, told Tribune Business that CTFE was attracted to Baha Mar because it was “a natural fit in our strategic growth plan”.
He emphasised that the Cable Beach-based development was not the largest integrated real estate/resort development that CTFE is currently involved with, pointing to its $10 billion-plus Greenwich Village project in London, which will create more than 15,000 new residences.
Mr Davis also referenced CTFE’s involvement as a partner in the $2.3 billion Queen’s Wharf project in Australia, which includes resorts and casino assets, and the Metro Manila casino/hotel development in the Philippines.
“We are a global diversified conglomerate that has extensive experience in integrated resort development, hospitality management and ownership across the globe,” Mr Davis told Tribune Business.
“This [Baha Mar] is a natural fit in our strategic growth plan for CTFE. This is what really attracted us. This is not a new experience. We have the resources and expertise to have this project open and operating successfully for the long-term. We look forward to unlocking the potential of the project.”