By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE government has received the highly anticipated Baha Mar proposals from prospective buyer Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), including a list of operators that the Hong Kong-based conglomerate is eyeing to run the shuttered mega-resort’s casino - the largest in the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe confirmed yesterday that the Gaming Board began its due diligence on the list of casino operators late last week.
“(CTFE) has submitted to the government of the Bahamas proposals for the hotel and the casino,” he said, “and the government of the Bahamas is now looking at what they have submitted. We got it in last week.
“(CTFE) they’re going to pretty much follow what they’ve done in other jurisdictions where they have major casino operators from veterans in the industry. We’re looking at all the components, we have to take a look at what they do now.
“They’ve given us a list of players that we’re doing due diligence on.”
CTFE announced in a press statement last month that it was in talks to acquire the beleaguered Cable Beach project.
The announcement was heavily criticised by the Official Opposition, namely its Montagu candidate Dionisio D’Aguilar, a former Baha Mar director and key ally of embattled developer Sarkis Izmirlian.
Mr D’Aguilar charged that CTFE was “unsuited to invest in the Bahamas,” citing an alleged “well-documented connection to organised crime in Asia.”
While he did not identify the connection, it likely refers to the Cheng family’s – owners of CTFE – link to billionaire Stanley Ho through its stake in Macau group STDM.
Mr Ho and his associates have reportedly been unsuccessful in attempts to expand gaming interests into Australia, Canada and other countries due to alleged associations with Chinese triad gangs in his Macau casinos.
Democratic National Alliance Leader Branville McCartney has also raised concerns over due diligence, and the proposed buyer’s alleged “deep rooted relationships to elements of organised crime.”
CTFE immediately refuted those assertions, and stated its commitment to integrity and good governance in business operations worldwide. The Hong Kong conglomerate pointed out that 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. It further stated that there will be no affiliation on the Baha Mar project with STDM.
Under its original developer, Sarkis Izmirlian, the casino would have been operated under the Baha Mar brand with a management firm hired to run it.
Mr Wilchcombe has previously said that the due diligence process will take at least three weeks.