Submitted by Nathan ‘Jolly’ Green. August 17, 2020
I am questioning Buccament Bay Resort because no one else is.
Vincentians think it is great, yet those previously employed there will get nothing, nada.
Those farmers and suppliers of fruit and vegetables, fish, and meat, will get nothing either.
But the government will get all its taxes that were owing by Harlequin and the resort. VINLEC and CWSA will get all their money; the bankers will get theirs. But the little people will get nothing, being told that is the way bankruptcy works.
The ULP government and its supporters cheer it on, the NDP welcomes the sale to Sandals.
But let us stand back and decide what has really happened.
I contend and have like the writer Peter Binose always contended much of the fault for the Buccament failure rests with the government, and I believe directly with PM Ralph Gonsalves, perhaps his wife, and certainly Julian Frances.
Ralph Gonsalves allowed a conman to come into Saint Vincent and rip off the government and local and overseas investors. Thousands of pensioners from the UK had their life saving taken from them. Investors from the US have also lost all, and some still owe money to American banks for loans that they paid to Buccament.
David Ames, a British twice bankrupt company owner, already had a record that smelt of fraud in Australia and Thailand. What he did in those places appears to be a test run for the enormous Ponzi scheme he ran in the Caribbean and Americas. People in Thailand and Australia were already complaining that they had been conned; there were plenty of reports in international newspapers. Dave Ames, if he had been adequately investigated under the due diligence method, would have instantly shown up as a dud. Checking any British person for company bankruptcy and wrongdoing takes five minutes on the internet, and it is free. That all makes it obvious that Dave Ames was not checked or investigated; there was no due diligence. Who can we blame for that, well I blame Ralph Gonsalves, he did the deal, he even gave Ames and his family Vincentian citizenship which entitled them to Vincentian passports? I must ask the question, how could the brilliant lawyer Ralph Gonsalves allow this to happen, how was there Dave Ames allowed to carry out such dastardly deeds in Saint Vincent.
Gonsalves was warned for months turning into years that Ames was a crook; in fact, he once wrote: “when considering businessmen for projects in SVG we do not expect them to be angels.” To which it was replied, and Vincentians do not expect us to be doing business with crooks.
In February 2013 BBC reporters alleged Dave Ames of Harlequin and Buccament Bay resort had bribed Ralph Gonsalves. Gonsalves denied the allegations. The reporters accosted him on an aeroplane videoing and recording the confrontation on board an aircraft after it landed at Barbados. Gonsalves never sued the BBC, and no litigation ensued, it died a death. Vincentians were shellshocked and horrified that their beloved and respected Prime Minister could have such allegations made against him.
Mrs Gonsalves was given a contract by Ames to carry out interior design and furnishings and fitting in the first small number of beachfront show villas. I am unsure how much that was, but it was rumoured and written about elsewhere as a lot of money. Binose asked about transparency and if it was right that Mrs Gonsalves should get such a contract, did it look right? But she also attended a conference in Watford England where 2,500 prospective British clients were listening to her convincing speech on why they should invest in Buccament Bay Resort. That night and the next day, hundreds signed up and paid deposits. So, is she to blame in any way for all those people losing their money? Only if she knew Ames was a crook and what was about to take place, which is doubtful. But what I will say it can hardly be right for her to have received payment from Harlequin or the Resort for contracts on those villas, which made it look as if they were linked to the overall deal in Ames acquiring the land. She should never have gone to the UK to support the sales drive by Ames and used her influence as the Prime Minister’s wife to encourage people to buy into the resort. People must believe that this was an arms-length deal between her and Harlequin. Unfortunately, it does not look that way, and impressions are important.
Then Julian Francis, Ralph Gonsalves first cousin, a government minister and senator. He was at Buccament every day or at least every day that I was there, which was two or three days a week. He took away on several Saturday nights a car full of prepared food from the Buccament kitchens for a party. How he paid for that I do not know, but not at the time of collection, prepaid or paid later perhaps. But I was there. I saw it and talked to the Chef. He also had his house at XXX built by ICE workmen, the Buccament contractors at the time. I was there at the house during the build and spoke with the workman and even to the ICE quantity surveyor who arrived from Buccament Bay Resort to report on progress and check on materials used, on many occasions he and I went and had a drink together. I have seen much of the paperwork regarding progress reports with photo’s attached. How he paid for that, I do not know, prepaid or paid later perhaps. I am still in contact with those involved in this house build.
At Buccament Bay Resort Francis put himself forward as the Mr Fixit, a go-between for disgruntled employees looking for wages owed, and suppliers who could not get their invoices paid. He told everyone publicly, and it has been published “If you have problems come and see me.” He offered to help those disgruntled creditors and employees. I do not know if it was Ralph Gonsalves or Julian Francis who had the Black Squad police, and the SSU military police, with big guns, stop employees going to the Harlequin offices to demand their money. But whoever was responsible gave the resort better treatment than the Vincentians who were owed money.
This went on for months and years; if the resort had not been given that kind of protection they would have folded earlier, suppliers would have been owed less, employees would have been paid. Now instead they are being offered nothing, shafted is the word that comes to mind.
There has been much written about Dave Ames and the Buccament Bay resort, but at least he built something in Saint Vincent. Many other islands he sold off artists impressions and built nothing. In Brazil, he started selling a resort off artists impressions and never built anything there either. The law in Brazil requires developers to place deposits and payments in a Brazilian bank escrow account until the client has their properly deeded property. But Ames took deposits, sold unbuilt properties, and instantly moved the amounts abroad. He circumvented Brazil government rules designed to protect investors and buyers. That was all going on while Ames was building Buccament.
According to a group of American Investors who obtained a court order securing their investment, a group that acted early and used all the proper legal channels to protect their investment. The same group who had made it difficult for the Kelly group to finalise a deal. They have been told by the liquidator their payment application has been denied, despite the orders from the court. If that is true, and I believe them, then we can expect litigation from that quarter as well. These Americans did everything right, yet end up with nothing, the word shafted comes to mind.
US sanctions against people and state, perhaps?
After the government changed the rules and acquired the resort and more farmland and did a deal with Punnet, and was able to sell the project unencumbered, did they offer it on the open market? If they did not, how do they know that $17 million was the best price achievable? Remember this was not the same deal offered to the Kelly consortium; this was a new deal. It was never available unencumbered before with all sections available from one seller. To make that worse here you have a unique and revised deal, a great new deal, and they sell it for less than Kelly’s group offered with all its problems.
Can anyone say the property was undersold and not offered on the open market to obtain the best value for the creditors? If I remember Harlequin valued, it at $250 million?
I advise everyone who was owed money to get together and take joint legal advice, something smells.
Because if it was worth more on the open market and was sold for more, there may have been money for ex-employees.
What worries me is that Ralph Gonsalves and his boy Camillo, and Butch Stewart and his boy Adam, got together in Florida USA, and struck a deal which they all agreed on. This deal should have been negotiated in SVG and should have been fully transparent, with other government ministers and attorneys present. This deal should not have been conducted like a family affair.
It reminded me of the previous deal, Ralph Gonsalves, and his wife, going to Cuba and doing a transaction in a restaurant, a family affair, with a client who wanted to invest into a private lounge at Argyle airport.
OPINION: The Art Of The Deal as taught in Havana, Cuba
I felt a little twinge of sympathy for Dave Ames because it turned out he bought a pup when he bought into Buccament. He did not have the slightest idea that the land that the resort was built on is in an ancient flood plain. He was clueless until the flood came as it had done before, and several employees at the resort drowned. Evidence shows that SVG government and some ministers knew this to be an active flood plain, did they tell him? If not, why not? If this information was kept from Ames, is the SVG government responsible for all the losses of everyone? How are we protected for the future if the resort floods again after Sandals buy it, were they warned, are they taking on the full responsibility if it happens again. It may never happen again, but it has happened three time in living lifetimes. The weather is getting worse, will it happen again?
Ames expected the Argyle airport to be open when he launched the resort, but the three-year Cuban project took nine years to complete.
So here was a conman, that could have built the one resort anywhere in the Caribbean, and he chose Saint Vincent. At the time, I decided it was Karma, and I believe Karma may be striking down others at some time very soon.
Now I believe all this is circumstantial and looks worse than it is. But I must bring it all to you. Not because I am accusing, alleging, or even inferring any individual of wrongdoing. It is out there in the public domain has been discussed and published many times in many places. Is it not time that we ask questions again?
Are some members of the Gonsalves/Francis family complicit in the failure of Buccament Bay Resort?
[What is great is how cell phone technology allows everyone nowadays to record
all important events, picture, video, voice]