The Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) leader yesterday said Baha Mar’s potential purchaser would not be granted a casino licence if the Gaming Board “did proper due diligence”, as he accused the Government of “playing with fire”.
Branville McCartney told Tribune Business that a DNA administration would not grant Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE) approval to purchase Baha Mar, and “would look elsewhere” when it came to finding a developer for the $3.5 billion property.
And he expressed concern that the Christie administration may ignore concerns about CTFE’s suitability as Baha Mar’s owner in its haste to ensure a general election victory in May 2017.
“I will tell you that if the Gaming Board were to do their proper due diligence, the casino licence would not be granted,” Mr McCartney told Tribune Business of CTFE. “They would be hard pressed to obtain a casino licence.”
Pushed by this newspaper as to whether a DNA administration would approve CTFE, either for the casino licence or for Baha Mar’s overall acquisition, Mr McCartney said: No. No. Sorry, no.
“From what I’ve seen, and from what I’ve determined, they don’t qualify because of their past dealings. You cannot tell me that this government doesn’t know that; they must know it.
“They are really, really almost playing with fire when it comes down to negotiating or allowing that purchase of Baha Mar. The history of their business dealings, their partnerships, no, I would look elsewhere.”
Mr McCartney did not identify the specific “dealings” he was referring to, but in an earlier press statement again raised concerns about the business relationship CTFE and its principals, the Cheng family, have with Macau ‘gaming king’ Stanley Ho.
While some observers will suggest that the DNA is unlikely to have the final say on whether CTFE’s Baha Mar purchase is approved, Mr McCartney’s comments will likely revive concerns first articulated by former Baha Mar director, and FNM candidate for Montagu, Dionisio D’Aguilar.
These concerns, which are also thought to have alarmed Baha Mar’s original developer, Sarkis Izmirlian, appear to be based on 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.
Yet CTFE, a privately-owned Hong Kong conglomerate controlled by the family of the late billionaire, Cheng Yu Tung, moved with remarkable haste to effectively disassociate themselves from Mr Ho despite maintaining an equity investment in STDM.
“The Cheng Family is an investor in Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM), which owns the gaming subsidiary, SJM Holdings Ltd (SJM),” CTFE said previously in response to Tribune Business questions.
“In addition, the Cheng family’s role in the Macau casino is strictly as an investor, with no involvement in day-to-day management of the casino or oversight of the gaming industry in Macau.
“As a company, we are committed to integrity and good governance in all of our business operations worldwide. There will be no affiliation on this project with STDM or SJM.”
CTFE also suggested its gaming reputation was in ‘good standing’ with regulators throughout the world, as the $3 billion Queen’s Wharf consortium, of which it is part, had just been approved for a casino licence by Australian regulators.
However, Mr McCartney questioned the due diligence conducted by the Cheng family, and CTFE and its subsidiaries, before investing in Mr Ho’s enterprises, some of which have been reported as having links to Chinese organised crime gangs known as Triads.
The DNA leader also queried why they were maintaining these interests, despite the concerns and negative publicity, and whether CTFE and its principals really were ‘passive investors’.
He added: “They’re [CTFE] trying to whitewash it over. We need to be very suspect and curious as to what they’re saying.”
Mr McCartney continued: “I think the Government must come clean as to who are these potential purchasers. In the world we are living in today, the Government cannot tell us something and it’s Gospel.
“By the touch of a button, we are able to pull up and see who these people are. Questions have already arisen as to their dealings around the world, and the Prime Minister would be really foolhardy to allow persons to invest in this country and cause the reputation of our country to be harmed out of desperation.
“The general election is coming up, and we have to be very careful who we do business with as a country.”
Meanwhile, Leonard Sands, the Bahamian Contractors Association’s (BCA) president, told Tribune Business that current construction work at the Baha Mar site appeared to be “less than what was suggested” previously by the Government.
“It would need an amazing amount of construction work in order to ready it for March,” Mr Sands said of Baha Mar. “It will need quite a lot of work to make it ready for the public.”
Tribune Business revealed back in February 2016 how Sir Sol Kerzner’s partner on a potential Baha Mar bid, Andrew Farkas, had estimated then that the project would not be fully open and operational until November/December 2017.
The Christie administration is pinning its hopes on part of Baha Mar being open in time for the March/April winter season and general election, with CTFE seemingly trying to accommodate its wishes by focusing on the casino and casino hotel, convention centre and associated hotel, and the golf course.
Mr Sands said some construction work appeared to be taking place at Baha Mar, with BCA members paid what was due to them invited back to complete contracts.
He added that some BCA members had been paid “quite a significant amount” based on the $74 million total that had been owing, and another payment was due to Bahamian contractors at end-November.
The BCA is due to have a Town Meeting on the new Contractors Bill at 7 pm on Thursday at the BCPOU Hall.