Monday, 7 October 2013

Grenada- An Investors Play Ground



Grenada- Playground of signature Investors and Mixed Fortunes

Over the years, Grenada has welcomed and done business with a whole array of foreign investors with mixed results.

In the early seventies under the GULP administration of Sir Eric Gairy, one John Clancy somersaulted to our shores as a significant investor. The now Port Louis , Grenada Yacht Services (GYS), was the site of the legendary “Clancy Island” reputed to have been the haunt of ladies plying their nightly trade. Back then Grenada was a home of a thriving yacht industry with an array of modest berthing facilities, repair shops dominated by the renowned LW Ross aka “Caca bright”. Mr. Clancy was reputed as a man of the world and his love for huge American cars was legendary. Little is known of how he got here or what incentives Sir Eric provided but the flash and glamour of Clancy Island occupied the minds of locals for a generation.
News emerged that Mr. Clancy was wanted in the United States on charges related to gaming fraud. Somehow Mr. Clancy found himself facing US law and a tiny cot in a federal prison awaited him.

Then came another foreign investor in an individual called Van Brink. This individual was reported to have shown Grenadian officials a photo of a precious stone and off he went to set up First Bank International with the full support and blessing of the government led by Dr. Keith Mitchell. The full blown dance of the millions during the period 1997 to 2000 enriched some Grenadian lawyers, politicians, local liaison personnel and their hangers –on. A job in an offshore bank could catapult an ordinary bank clerk from a monthly pittance of $2500 to $8- $10,000 per month. Properties were bought and sold at inflated prices and rents relaxed in the stratosphere. The buzz at the upscale restaurants was deafening as the offshore money circulated in gay abandon. It was good for business they said.

The scope of the expose of this fraudulent scheme caught many unsuspecting Grenadians including the greedy, by surprise. Van Brink was a person sought after by many in the society as the man of the moment. Legal fees reached an all time high as our legal fraternity was falling over each other to represent these crooks who raped our virgin psyche at the altar of easy money.

The country then became known as a haven for crooks and fraudsters and it earned us a free passage to the “Hall of Shame”. Grenada faced the indignity of being blacklisted internationally. Our good name went up in flames.  The then Minister of Finance Anthony Boatswain had to sign an affidavit which was published in the Government Gazette  which revealed that US$ 474 million was embezzled (stolen) in the First Bank fiasco.
While some investors including David Rowe, Rita Regale et al were jailed in the US, not a single public official in Grenada was reprimanded for their role in the scandal.

Victor Kozeny aka “The Pirate of Prague” entered the fray as another signature investor. The prize was the Lagoon .The intense deal making involved government officials and other exotic names like Poole Capital etc.  Kozeny has been a person of interest of many law enforcement agencies in Europe and his activities in the Czech Republic are well known internationally. Again our country exposed itself to be ridiculed by the international community as a haven for crooks and conmen.

Then Peter De Savary appeared in the mix. Mr. De Savary, a developer, is well known in British circles as a successful investment promoter. He maneuvered through the maze of owners, quasi owners, front men and politicians to achieve control of the Lagoon/ Ballast Ground area. The exact price paid is not known but reports suggest that the tidy sum of $1 was paid for the property. He then proceeded in an aggressive campaign to purchase available property in the Butler House, Mt Pandy and Ballast Ground area.

The project was welcomed by most locals although there is strong resistance to the concept of building villas along the shoreline of the lagoon. The lagoon was cleaned up; Mr. LW Ross was relocated to Westerhall and the squatters to St. David’s. Mr. De Savary then flipped the marine shoreline and lagoon area to Camper and Nicholson for a reported sum of US$25 Million. By then De Savary was nicknamed ‘The Savior’ as he was probably the most dynamic investor/ promoter on the island at the time. Mt Cinnamon and a rural estate were added to his holdings. The Port Louis Marina has positioned the island as a key player in the Yachting industry in the southern Caribbean. A successful foreign investment one may say.

The financial collapse of the ‘La Source’ created the perfect opening for Gordon’ Butch ‘Stewart to anchor his successful Sandals chain on Grenadian soil. While some consider that his investment has game changing potential, others opine that his all inclusive business concept will not bring significant return to the nation’s coffers as he was able to negotiate an unprecedented raft of concessions. The resort is under construction and we will have to wait and see how that investment evolves.

Last week the government unveiled the newest foreign investor on the block. Egyptian born Naguib Sawiris showed up at the Maurice Bishop International airport in his private jet to meet Prime Minister Mitchell. He hails from a rich family with significant holdings in Telecom industry in his native country. He is a Coptic Christian and was identified by Forbes magazine in 2010 as the 374th richest person in the world with a reported net worth of US $2.5 Billion. His brothers are also billionaires according to Forbes magazine, a publication that tracks the most affluent individuals on the planet.

Mr. Sawiris is reported to have ‘fallen in love’ with the island and government sources indicate that he has already acquired the Silver Sands Property on Grand Anse beach. There is much expectation that Mr. Sawiris will construct a 5 star hotel on the property.

The NNP proclaimed during the elections campaign that they had investors ‘lined up’. The unveiling of this investor allows the administration to say publicly that their utterances were not empty promises. They hope that the PR value of the announcement will create a new talking point so that the current anxiety over the impending austerity program will be diminished.

The construction of a 5 star hotel is a huge undertaking and it is left to be seen how long it takes ‘to put steel in the ground’. Foreign investment is only beneficial to a country when it creates revenue streams to the treasury that is in excess of the value of the concessions given. The NNP love to talk about foreign investment while at the same time projects are rotting, unfinished at Grand Harbour, Point Marquis and Levera. The only difference is that they are local.

The saga of signature foreign investors and mixes results continue its topsy- turvy ride through our Grenadian landscape.

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