EDITORIAL: Twenty years, three billionaires and still nothing

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The Guiana Island saga began many years ago, but Antiguans and Barbudans really only began talking about the island back in the late nineties when the Lester Bird-led Antigua Labour Party administration entered into a one-sided deal with a mysterious Malaysian “investor” by the name of Dato Tan Kay Hock. Dato Tan was promoted as a billionaire, and his plans for the offshore islands and nearby mainland were grand. 
Well, guess what? Nothing happened. Well, nothing beyond a partially constructed ‘model home’ that stands in ruins today. The agreement called for the title to be passed to Dato Tan for a paltry US$5 million deposit, and the once habitat for our national animal, the fallow deer, fell into foreign control for what will likely be forever. There was not a single performance clause in the agreement to save us in case the ‘billionaire investor’ could not live up to his fantastical multi-billion dollar investment promises, save and except those on the backs of Antiguan and Barbudan taxpayers which included paying for the compulsory acquired lands.
As with all good Antiguan stories about investors, it does not end there. After a long battle, waged by the United Progressive Party (UPP) administration to get the lands returned to the government, the country eventually learnt that our other billionaire investor, R. Allen Stanford had acquired the lands from Dato Tan in a private sale in 2008. Stanford apparently purchased the shares of a British Virgin Islands company that held the interest in the lands. No one knew until the empire crumbled. We all know the Stanford story, so let’s move on. 
That leads us to the current owner of the lands, Chinese investor Yida Zhang, apparently, another billionaire with fantastical multi-billion dollar investment promises, who purchased the Guiana Island lands from the Stanford receiver for some US$60 million. Yida, as he is more commonly referred, cultivated a great relationship with current Prime Minister, Gaston Browne; so good, in fact, that he apparently supported the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party’s (ABLP) exclusively in the 2014 general election campaign and was in receipt of a signed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) within 24 hours of the ABLP administration taking office.
Today, more than four years later, not much exists on the Guiana Island lands beyond some fencing, a large warehouse, and a few model buildings; oh, and the ruins of Dato Tan’s model home.  How could we forget? There is, however, an interesting court judgement that calls upon the investor to make good on a US$5.4 million dollar agreement related to the purchase of the lands with a real estate company called Lux Locations.
We must admit that we are baffled with the ruling, which calls for a valuation of the lands/shares to be done and for the possible sale of shares to satisfy the judgment. Why wouldn’t the billionaire Yida simply pay the US$5.4 million, especially considering that the annual investment into the project was said to be US$200 million per year for at least 10 years? Relatively small change. The answer may lie in point six of the amended statement of claim dated 21st January, 2015. The claimant states that “On August 19th, 2014, ten (10) days prior to the closing of the sale, the First Defendant [Yida]  through his agent, Kenneth Kwok, wrote to the Claimant [Lux Locations] by email stating that foreign exchange was not available in China to pay the agent’s commission due to the Claimant …” What we take from that is, Yida was saying that he could not get his money out of China so he could not pay. If that was the case, and he could not get US$5.4 million out of China to pay the real estate agent, how did he get the US$60 million to pay the receivers? That is not all. If he had difficulties with the additional US$5.4 million, how would he get at least US$200 million out of China every year for the next 10 years?
It is worth noting that Yida and the Gaston Browne administration signed the MOA in June 2014, approximately two months before the deal was actually closed. How could Yida be making multi-billion dollar promises if he could not get $5.4 million out of China? And how was none of this on the Government’s radar as they vetted Yida as a bonafide investor? Even if you get by the timing regarding the campaign, how does the project go through all the blessings of government and Parliament when this all comes to light? Remember, the statement of claim was submitted to court in January 2015. Later that same year, The Special Economic Zone Act, the Antigua & Barbuda Special Economic Zone Yida International Investment Antigua License Order and the Special Economic Zone License Regulations were all passed to effect concessions to YIDA.
Nobody knew of the case, you think? Well, if you want to add even more head scratching intrigue to the whole scenario, representing Yida on these matters were Dr. David Dorsett, from the law firm Watt Dorsett & Company, (the “Watt” being the Speaker of the House Gerald Watt) and Damien Benjamin Esq., from the law firm of Benjamin Steadroy C.O. & Co. (yes, the attorney general) On the other
side, for the claimant, is Justin Simon QC. (the former attorney general). Keep scratching your head because this one is not over. Only in Antigua!
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