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THA lawyer on granting of licences: Finance Ministry has the last say
The Tobago House of Assembly is maintaining it has no authority or any responsibility to approve any foreign investment licence (FIL) in the controversial Culloden Estate matter. Senior Counsel Alvin Pascall, who is assigned to the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), yesterday denied claims by attorneys representing the State and the UK investors that the THA played a part in the granting of licences.
Pascall said the guidelines for licences under the Foreign Investment Act were “merely guidelines” and not a statute of the THA. A group of UK investors had written the THA seeking to recover damages and compensation in excess of US$30 million (TT$200 million) for an alleged land deal to create an exclusive eco-resort which turned sour.
The investors claimed that they initiated a deal with the THA to build the resort which never materialised. “No matter what the guidelines state, the Ministry of Finance has the last say,” Pascall said, “and this is not just a case of guidelines any more.
“Where in Tobago is there an office set up for a person to deliver a FIL licence? Who is the officer in Tobago who handles those applications? There is no such place in Tobago for these applications to be sent.” Pascall said once an application is made it goes directly to the Finance Ministry, after which he said there may or may not be discussions with the THA.
Saying he was unaware who the UK investors were, Pascall said every day people came to the island expressing interest in investment. “Some just want to get a piece of land for leverage to have it mortgaged, and some of them who say they want to invest never come back.”
In an interview with the T&T Guardian on Wednesday, British attorney Michael Scanlan identified the two main UK investors as Chris Thompson and Farro Jalalpour. But Pascall said he had never heard of these people. The State’s lead counsel Donna Prowell on Wednesday said she was surprised to read in the newspapers a letter signed by Pascall in which the THA distanced itself from the granting of FILs.
Prowell said there was an understanding among all parties that the matter would be treated with confidentiality. Pascall, however, said there was never such as arrangement and he was forced to release the letter in public only after a newspaper report about the proposed arbitration over a claim.
“There was never any discussion of confidentiality and because of that, I didn’t have any problem with my letter going public. I would categorically state I don’t have anything to lie for and I told Ms Prowell I would assist her to the best of my ability,” Pascall added.
On the ownership of the Culloden Estate, Pascall said that lay in the hands of a bank and not the THA. “First Citizens Bank foreclosed and that was when the THA came into the picture and made a ten per cent deposit,” he said.
Asked what was the next step, Pascall said, “There is no next step. This is supposed to be a dead matter for the THA.”
In March 2011, First Citizens put the Culloden Estate up for sale after two Tobago-based English investors defaulted on a US$2.3 million ($16.64m) loan from the bank that was secured by mortgage on the estate. According to First Citizens, the English investors defaulted on the loan on or before October 31, 2010.
While a First Citizens executive insisted yesterday the bank’s mortgage was “valid, legal and subsisting,” it is being challenged by a Tobago-based, German national named Patrick Dankou. That matter comes up for hearing on February 6.
The English investors borrowed the US$2.3m from First Citizens in order to acquire a 75 per cent stake in Nature Resorts, Dankou’s development company that had purchased the Culloden Estate in 2000. A Business Guardian story in July 2011 quoted Dankou as saying while the First Citizens loan was used to pay US$1.3m to his German partners, Dankou himself only received a promissory note for the sum of US$975,000.
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