FORMER Baha Mar developer Sarkis Izmirlian yesterday called for a moratorium on the mega-resort’s sale to Chow Tai Fook Enterprises Ltd and a full investigation into the deal struck by the former government citing “unusual, one-sided” concessions and openly accusing the Christie administration of “self-dealing” and “state-sponsored discrimination”.
Days after members of the new administration said it saw no cause to renegotiate the terms of the sale, a statement from Mr Izmirlian’s BMD Holdings Ltd explained the demand for the sale process to be halted was motivated by a review of the recently released heads of terms between the Export Import Bank of China (CEXIM), China State Construction and the government.
The statement reiterates the former developer’s pledge that he is fully prepared to purchase the beleaguered resort, complete construction and operate it with a full Bahamian workforce and organisation.
It also notes that BMD is now considering legal options against the parties involved in the heads of terms.
It read: “In BMD’s view, these documents confirm the nation’s fears that the previous administration had engaged in the wholesale giveaway of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax waivers and concessions that the country could not afford and that rightfully should have been earmarked for the Bahamian people, solely to facilitate a charade of a sale in the lead up to the general election last May.
“The agreement also clearly raises the concern about the potential of corruption and self-dealing by members of the previous government, even beyond the now public self-dealing by the former attorney general,” the statement also alleged.
It is likely that the statement is referring to part of the agreement that stipulates Bahamians who owned and held shop leases and concessions in the Baha Mar project were permitted by CEXIM and the preferred purchaser to continue to hold them under the existing terms and conditions.
In 2015, former Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson revealed that her husband Maxwell Gibson owns the retail jewellery store chain that had been granted storefront leases in Baha Mar.
At the time, she rejected accusations that she had a conflict of interest due to her role as government negotiator for the stalled resort.
The BMD statement continued: “The heads of terms also underscores the extremes to which the former government of the Bahamas and China EXIM Bank conspired to impair the economic interests and reputation of the original developer, Sarkis Izmirlian. Not content to stop at the confiscation of the resort, the heads of terms expressly prohibits any payments to companies associated with Mr Izmirlian, a long-time resident and the largest foreign investor in the history of the Bahamas, as well as payments to the former expatriate executives of Baha Mar.
“This is state-sponsored discrimination, contrary to the laws and constitution of the Bahamas, and sets an awful precedent for foreign investment in the Bahamas. Accordingly, BMD is considering its legal options against the parties involved in constructing these highly questionable agreements.”
The BMD statement calls for a moratorium on the completion of the sale and other transactions resulting from the deal struck by the former government, and for the investigation undertaken by the Gaming Board to grant CTFE’s casino licence to be reopened, and its findings made public.
It also refers to the alleged “extensive, disturbing public record of potentially extensive criminal associations of Chow Tai Fook’s owners,” and suggested it was a factor that the previous administration “appears to have been intentionally and conveniently ignored.”
CTFE has repeatedly denied claims that its operations were linked to organised crime in Asia, an allegation that was also raised by then FNM candidate and former Baha Mar Director Dionisio D’Aguilar last year.
As minister of tourism, Mr D’Aguilar, along with Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, has rejected accusations by Progressive Liberal Party Chairman Bradley Roberts that his ties to Mr Izmirlian put him in a “conflict of interest” position regarding the resort.
Mr D’Aguilar did not respond to calls placed up to press time. Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Tribune he did not want to comment on the matter.
The Christie administration released the heads of agreement—which detailed many concessions given to the property—with Baha Mar and the government at the end of April.
The heads of terms relating to Baha Mar’s sale was tabled in the House of Assembly last week; however, Mr Bethel explained in the Senate that the government agreed to keep elements of its Baha Mar agreement with CEXIM sealed because of the commercially sensitive nature of the material.
“We are cognisant that there remain commercially sensitive documents which were sealed at the request of the private parties to the Baha Mar matter, and which remain sealed pursuant to the court’s order,” Mr Bethel said on Friday. “After careful review and discussion with the other parities, we are of the view that those documents should remain sealed for the time being, for the legal reasons which have been given by the judge. Those reasons were that the documents should remain sealed to preserve the integrity of the sales process, which remains a commercially live issue.”
The tabled heads of terms allowed for up to 1,200 work permits to be issued to China Construction America (CCA) and 30 work permits for all necessary staff of the asset special purpose vehicle (SPV) during the remobilisation and construction phase.
The project was also to benefit from exemptions of value added tax and import taxes of goods and services for completion.
Yesterday, the former developer described the concessions outlined as egregious giveaways and an insult to the Bahamian people.
The statement read: “These permits literally take food out of the mouths of Bahamians to reward the same Chinese construction company that had failed to meet multiple opening dates that it had set. It is unthinkable that a government that claimed it was working in the best interests of the Bahamian people would have agreed to such terms.”
The BMD statement added: “There is no question that Baha Mar should be completed successfully and fully opened as soon as possible. But that Baha Mar should be, as originally conceived, a key economic spark plug for the Bahamas. The Bahamian public should be convinced and be confident that the owner of Baha Mar is there for the Bahamas, committed to creating jobs for all Bahamians and enhancing the Bahamian way of life.”
Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Tribune last Thursday, concerning the unsealed heads of terms, that “there is nothing that calls for renegotiation. There is nothing particularly unusual in the documents.”