* AG: 'We're bringing order out of chaos'
* Over 250 lots bought from Arawak Homes
* Resolution now awaits survey's completion
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Government has paid "several million dollars" to a private developer to "bring order out of chaos" and secure the homes of several hundred families who were swindled in a massive land scam.
Carl Bethel QC confirmed to Tribune Business the Government has purchased more than 250 lots from Arawak Homes in the Sir Lynden Pindling Estates area as a means to safeguard persons who - rather than acquiring their properties from the developer - had purchased them from unscrupulous fraudsters who did not have title to the land they were selling.
Disclosing that the Government is seeking to bring closure to the fall-out from a three-decade fraud that has impacted hundreds of lives, and cost millions of dollars in legal fees and other costs while leaving many unsuspecting Bahamians out-of-pocket, Mr Bethel said it had hired a surveyor to ensure what exists on the ground matches approved plans for the area's development.
"The Government purchased all lots on which there were homes or parts of houses," he explained of the settlement mechanism agreed with Arawak Homes. "We're trying to bring order out of chaos, and it's a long and fraught process."
Asked how much the Government paid to acquire the lots, Mr Bethel replied: "I would only say several million. It was several good million, but less than $20m. I really don't want to put a figure on it, but it was around $9m or so to the best of my recollection. The money is to be paid over time."
The attorney general warned, though, that final resolution was facing "some delays" that had forced the Government to hire a land surveyor to determine whether what exists on the ground in Sir Lynden Pindling Estates today - in terms of the lots acquired from Arawak Homes - conforms to the so-called "Pinewood plan" that was approved to guide the area's development. He said the survey would be completed this year.
With the Government paying for the lots upon which homeowners have effectively built illegally, given that they did not purchase from Arawak Homes as the land's rightful owner, The Attorney General's Office issued a notice just before the New Year urging those impacted to provide it with more information "in order to regularise property title issues" for those impacted.
Some are likely to oppose the use of millions in taxpayer dollars to compensate a private developer, especially with the Public Treasury strained to the limit amid COVID-19's economic devastation, but the Government is likely to argue that was no better alternative to keeping hundreds of Bahamian homeowners and their families secure in their homes and avoiding the potential loss of their biggest investment.
It is unclear, though, whether any compensation will be forthcoming to persons who purchased lots from the fraud's perpetrators but never built on that property as they would seem not to be covered by the Government's settlement with Arawak Homes. The Public Treasury, under ever-growing daily pressure, will likely seek to minimise its and taxpayers' exposure.
Arawak Homes executives confirmed to Tribune Business the nature and extent of the settlement agreement reached with the Government to resolve the title fraud that has ensnared a 156-acre tract of land it owns in the Pinewood Gardens/Nassau Village area, just south of Charles W. Saunders Highway, for some three decades.
Tavares LaRoda, its in-house attorney, said: "There were over 250 houses and buildings impacted. The land on which they built structures is subject to transfer. It's in excess of 250 lots."
Sir Franklyn Wilson, the developer's chairman, disclosed that efforts to settle the mess created by rogue land sellers and their attorney enablers had spanned three administrations. He revealed that they began under the last Ingraham government, when Byron Woodside, the Pinewood MP and minister of state with responsibility for land, approached Arawak Homes over a land swap.
A similar solution was proposed for a land dispute that erupted in the Bozine Town area. Sir Franklyn said Arawak Homes was prepared "from a corporate policy point of view to entertain the proposal" for a land exchange that would resolve all parties' issues, but Mr Woodside was unable to meet its request for "a Cabinet conclusion" that would show the solution had the Government's full backing.
The initiative was then picked up by Mr Woodside's successor as Pinewood MP, the ex-minister of state for investments, Khaalis Rolle. Mr Rolle was able to provide "evidence of a Cabinet conclusion", and the Christie administration established a Cabinet committee headed by Hope Strachan, then-Sea Breeze MP, to negotiate a resolution with Arawak Homes.
"Eventually we came to an understanding where the Government acquired a substantial number of lots in Pinewood Gardens," Sir Franklyn said, explaining that the Minnis administration had followed through on the work done by its two predecessors.
However, those responsible for the fraud perpetrated on unsuspecting Bahamians whose numbers are far in excess of the 250 lots acquired by the Government have never been held to account. They include the Smith, Smith & Company law firm, which handled the various conveyancing transactions involving the 156 acres, and a Mr Robinson, who controlled one of the companies involved.
The scam exploited the Quieting Titles Act. It started by putting forward two 'front men', in this case John Sands and Thaddeus Johnson, to claim some connection to the targeted property, such as having farmed it in the past. A Certificate of Title is then sought under this Act, with the ‘front man usually being controlled by the scheme’s architects, who stay out of the picture until the title certificate is obtained.
To obtain a title certificate via the Quieting Titles Act, parties using this mechanism must advertise their move in the official government gazette (newspaper) so that neighbouring landowners and others who may claim ownership of the subject property are informed and can contest the move.
This was not done in either the John Sands and Thaddeus Johnson cases, with the perpetrators falsely certifying to the Supreme Court that this process was followed so they could obtain title certificates to a property already owned by Arawak Homes.
Once the title certificates were in their possession, those behind the Sir Lynden Pindling Estates fraud immediately "washed" or laundered the title through a series of transactions that on-sold it to companies such as Horizon Systems, Bahamas Variety Company and C.B. Bahamas.
They then started selling the property to unsuspecting low income Bahamian buyers, often for prices below market value, who did not equate "a sweet deal" with a potential scam. Many were also suckered in by relatives who vouched for the bona fides of those promoting the scheme, while others did not think to - or could not afford to - hire attorneys to conduct title searches on the property.
TalRussell 2 years, 4 months ago
This land swap, as Carl Wilshire prefers calls it - funded exclusively by PopoulacesPurse's VATs $30 millions - is one up to all the red coats Queens Honours recipients goin' back The Queen’s Honours Lists of July 24, 2017. A VAT withholding boycott seems befittin;, .
Thanks be's Her Majesty, for a 30 millions of dollars spendthrift attorney general. Shakehead a quick once for upyeahvote you cannot make such nonsense up. Shake twice for not?
DWW 2 years, 4 months ago
Why would the number be kept quiet? It is just a perfect example of everything that is wrong with governance in the country. Been working on it for years, but can't remember the details? AND this is a fine example of everything which is wrong with the legal profession and land tenure in this country. With all the technology available land ownership still relies on hand written paper and microfiche. maybe its time the severely antiquated system is changed.
mandela 2 years, 4 months ago
So where are the fraudsters are they being punished and made to pay for their crimes?
TalRussell 2 years, 4 months ago
Same AG Comrade Carl Wilshire who imported an Englishman Queen's Counsel to argue the case as to why the court, shouldn't order the drilling for sludge oil in colony's waters to be halted - because it would brungs undue financial hardship to the foreigners currently drilling for sludge in we waters?
Time PopoulacesOrdinary at large (POAL) to boycott the Justice System! Shakehead** a quick once for upyeahvote you cannot make such nonsense up. Shake twice for not?
BONEFISH 2 years, 4 months ago
There are quite a number of land scams in this country over the years.
It was recommended from 1963 that this country develop a sensible land registry. This country is far behind in many aspects of development despite the propanganda.
BahamaRed 2 years, 4 months ago
Personally I feel Arawak Homes knew that these homes were being erected and they thought it more lucrative to sit back and wait to pop up at a later date, to claim the land was their own to start with.
It's not the first time Franklyn Wilson and Arawak homes have done unscrupulous things. It wouldn't shock me if they were the ones who illegally acquired the land.
I just find it hard to believe that for 30yrs they didn't realize that persons had built homes on land they supposedly owned. This island isn't that big, 250 houses built and no one from Arawak homes was aware. I can't see that being the case... and if it were what happened to squatters rights? Some of these people have lived in the home long enough to have paid off mortgages.
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