By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Cabinet Minister yesterday vehemently denied that his family’s company was one of Baha Mar’s main Customs brokers, refuting reports made to Tribune Business in January 2017 by former resort employees.
Jerome Fitzgerald, minister for education, science and technology, vigorously rejected claims about Bahamas Cargo & Logistics after the allegations were yesterday repeated by the Punch tabloid newspaper.
Mr Fitzgerald, in an e-mail exchange with Tribune Business, said claims about himself and his family’s Customs brokerage were “way off base” and “factually in left field”.
These came in response to this newspaper pointing out that multiple former Baha Mar employees had revealed Bahamas Cargo & Logistics’ role at the $4.2 billion development back in January, at the time this newspaper revealed the project’s construction completion was totally VAT-free.
One former Baha Mar employee, well-placed to know the project’s financial affairs, wrote in a letter to The Tribune on the VAT affair: “Is this Baha Mar Ltd VAT exemption really something new? The truth is no, it’s not new, because Baha Mar Ltd was enjoying this prior to Chapter 11 and I am surprised that Jerome Fitzgerald did not mention this as he well knows this through his family customs brokerage, as it was one of the two main customs brokers for Baha Mar Ltd, the other being Elite Logistics with Jude Smith.”
Other ex-Baha Mar employees confirmed Bahamas Cargo & Logistics’ role under condition of anonymity at the same time, with Tribune Business including this in a January 11, 2017, report.
However, Mr Fitzgerald yesterday denied any link between the company and Baha Mar, and said he would “have corrected you a long time ago” had he seen the reports.
“That’s not true. It wasn’t for Baha Mar; that’s why I said to check your facts,” he replied. “Baha Mar’s main Customs broker was a company out of Freeport recommended by MSC, who was the shipper.
“That’s why I know factually you and your employee are not correct. If you have contacts at MSC or Tropical they can confirm this. That’s all I’m saying. You’re all are way off base. And factually in left field.”
Mr Fitzgerald’s assertion that it “wasn’t for Baha Mar” raises the possibility that Bahamas Cargo & Logistics may have been acting for someone else, such as China Construction America (CCA), in relation to the $4.2 billion project.
However, the Minister never clarified that in the e-mail exchange, adding: “There was only one broker that was authorised to pick up goods on behalf of Baha Mar; any other information is incorrect. There was never multiple brokers or truckers..... It was never ‘one of’ because there was always only one.”
Tribune Business sources, though, yesterday said Bahamas Cargo & Logistics was among Baha Mar’s creditors when the project filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2015 under former developer, Sarkis Izmirlian.
Mr Fitzgerald, meanwhile, also dismissed the Punch article, which largely regurgitated information already in the public domain regarding himself and Allyson Maynard-Gibson, the attorney general.
“I don’t respond to foolishness or persons or entities not worthy of suing,” he blasted. “So they produced any of these contracts I supposedly benefited from? Smt! (suck my teeth).
“They also said Baha Mar wasn’t going to open, the employees would not be paid, the contractors would not be paid and we wouldn’t find an owner/operator. Go figure!!”
Mr Fitzgerald and Mrs Maynard-Gibson both sat on the Cabinet’s Baha Mar committee, and played key roles in negotiating the project’s remobilisation and revitalisation with China Export-Import Bank and China Construction America (CCA), plus prospective new owner, Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE).
The Education Minister yesterday told the TV cameras that he and his family “don’t have contracts....zero, at Baha Mar”.
Mrs Maynard-Gibson, meanwhile, slammed claims that her family’s jewellery concessions at Baha Mar were franchises of a retail chain owned by CTFE’s principals, the Cheng family, as an “unmitigated, outrageous lie”.
She added: “It is a lie. I am not benefiting from anything at all in relation to the negotiations that we worked so hard as a government for the Bahamian people in relation to the Baha Mar transaction.”
The Attorney General previously confirmed that her husband, Colombian Emeralds proprietor, Maxwell Gibson, held jewellery store leases at Baha Mar. That came four days after she said the leases were held by her daughters.
Mrs Maynard-Gibson rejected accusations then that this created a conflict of interest with her role as government negotiator over Baha Mar, adding that Prime Minister Perry Christie was aware of the matter.