By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORT Charlotte MP Dr Andre Rollins yesterday accused the Christie administration of colluding with China Construction America (CCA) Bahamas and “deceiving” Bahamians over the stalled $3.5bn Baha Mar resort to protect the financial interests of the Chinese.
This, he said, ultimately “cut the legs” from underneath project developer Sarkis Izmirlian.
However, Prime Minister Perry Christie vehemently denied this saying it was “absolutely wrong” for Dr Rollins to “mislead” the country. He said the record would reflect that there was no intention to delay the resort on the part of the government.
Mr Christie said at all times, the government worked in the best interest of Bahamians and sought advice from government hired lawyers in the United States, the United Kingdom as well as the Attorney General’s Office to ensure his administration was making the right decisions.
Dr Rollins’ highly critical remarks led Mr Christie to apologise for putting the former PLP MP in a position to hold a seat in Parliament. To this, Dr Rollins said it was evident that Mr Christie wanted a “lackey” and that he would not be silenced or prevented from speaking on behalf of Bahamians.
Branding the prime minister as “weak,” Dr Rollins further urged Mr Christie to suspend all Baha Mar negotiations with the Chinese. He said the prime minister was “desperate” to gain a victory in the form of the resumption of construction at Baha Mar in return for granting concessions that are not in this country’s best interest.
The controversial MP said he was “fearful” that Mr Christie would give the Chinese way more than the Bahamas could afford, pointing to speculation that Chinese investors had requested hundreds of economic citizenships.
He was adamant that this was a means of assisting Chinese citizens with an avenue of escaping criminal prosecution. He was referring to speculation that the Chinese requested 500 economic citizenships to remobilise the project. Mr Christie has previously said the government would not sell or negotiate citizenship with any investor.
Speaking in the House of Assembly, Dr Rollins said the government was “cosy” with CCA, allowing the Chinese construction firm and its Executive Vice President Tiger Woo to persuade officials into allowing the development to proceed into liquidation on the premise that as soon as this was done, delayed construction would imminently begin.
He also pointed to the absence of adequate Bahamian bankruptcy laws that would have allowed Baha Mar to claim protection and restructure the property while remaining open.
“The prime minister, following the massive referendum defeat,” Dr Rollins said during his contribution to the 2016/2017 budget debate, “is clearly in an extremely weak position politically and therefore as leader of this government he is negotiating from a position of weakness and desperation.
“He is desperate to gain a victory in the form of the resumption of construction in Baha Mar in return for granting concessions that are not in our country’s best interest.
“I am fearful for our country and I am afraid that the prime minister will give these Chinese investors way more than we as a country can afford. As you are likely aware, the Chinese government has an ongoing anti-corruption campaign where they are trying citizens, many of them wealthy businessmen and political figures, for crimes of corruption. The punishment for those found guilty is execution.
“It is speculated that the request for economic citizenship is a means of granting an escape to persons who want to evade criminal prosecution by securing citizenship in countries that do not have an extradition treaty with China. This is serious Mr Speaker. Clearly if this is true these are not the kind of persons that we ought to be welcoming in the country.
“Clearly the Chinese investors see our prime minister as a lame duck prime minister because they are asking him to commit political suicide. The fact that this government would even consider this is confirmation that they have taken leave of their collective sense.
He added: “These demands made on the government will have dangerous ramifications on the country and our economy for generations to come. This is a true case of giving away our national sovereignty if ever there was a case of surrendering our national sovereignty.
“We must not allow the emperor and the dream seller to flush our country down the drain in his desperate attempt to be re-elected. I believe this country ought to have an election as soon as possible since this government is not prepared to force the resignation of this prime minister.”
Responding to Dr Rollins’ claims, Mr Christie said it was unacceptable that the MP was attempting to mislead Bahamians. He defended the government saying at one point it had worked in the interest of Mr Izmirlian.
He said: “Firstly I would wish to indicate that no Chinese company (and) no Chinese personality persuaded the government of the Bahamas to do anything.
“The government of the Bahamas, when Sarkis Izmirlian filed for Chapter 11 (Bankruptcy) in the Delaware court, was advised by our solicitors in London (and) by our lawyers in Washington, one of the foremost bankruptcy lawyers in the US, and by the lawyers in our AG’s Office, it was a considered legal opinion that in the best interest of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, the creditors (and) the Bahamian people who were owed money, that their best interests would be served by having the courts of the Bahamas be the supervising court of a liquidation. Mr Speaker we received that advice from the jurisdiction in the United Kingdom, the Untied States and the Bahamas.
“Mr Speaker, I repeat it was wrong, absolutely wrong of the member to speak of an intention of the government (to deceive). It is not true and there is nothing available for this member to say that.”
“The member, whether wittingly or unwittingly, is misleading this House and misleading this country.
Mr Christie added: “Mr Speaker, it is on record when the government was informed by Mr Sarkis Izmirlian that he was applying under Chapter 11 the prime minister was informed in his office by Mr Izmirlian with his bankruptcy lawyers there at a time. When the prime minister was acting at the instance of Mr Izmirlian in being an intermediary with the Chinese Export Import Bank, working for and on behalf of Mr Izmirlian, it was then at that meeting that the prime minister was told, much to his amazement and surprise, that as we were speaking his lawyers were filing for Chapter 11.”
Mr Christie said this meant that in the interests of all concerned, he had to seek immediate legal advice.
Baha Mar was initially slated to open in December 2014, but faced a series of delays, which it blamed on its general contractor, CCA.
The resort filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a US court last June. However, the cases for the resort’s Bahamian properties were thrown out. What the US judge said at the time was that under the circumstances, the US Bankruptcy Code chapter 11 would have been “an ideal vehicle for the restructuring of this family of related companies with the ultimate goal of finishing a project” – a route objected to by CEXIM and CCA – his hand was forced as there was no guarantee that any ruling in his court would be enforceable in the Bahamas without the cooperation of the Bahamian courts. Government had objected to the case being heard in Delaware, claiming it would have breached Bahamian “sovereignty.”
Last October, the Supreme Court put the resort into receivership at the request of the Export Import Bank of China.
A formal sale process for the project began in March when Baha Mar’s court appointed receivers hired a Canadian real estate firm to market the project to potential buyers.