On Tuesday, the seventh day of his opening statement on behalf of the prosecution in the criminal trial of former Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) premier Michael Misick and others, Andrew Mitchell QC concluded his outline of a land transaction that allegedly defrauded the TCI government of millions of dollars and then turned to Beaches Resorts, a subsidiary of Sandals Resorts International. Specifically, he referred to evidence that Unique Vacations Inc. (UVI), a company in Miami, Florida responsible for reservations, bookings and collection of payment for vacation packages, as well as all advertising, marketing and promotion of Sandals, made payments directly to a number of people or entities involved in this case.
According to Mitchell, between August 2005 and December 2010 a total of around $1 million was paid to Prestigious Properties, a local real estate firm in which Michael Misick held a 20 percent shareholding, along with his two brothers Philip Misick (20 percent) and Washington Misick, the current TCI minister of finance (60 percent). “[Prestigious Properties] appears to have operated not only as real estate firm but also an entity that would hold money for and on behalf of individuals. In particular, [Prestigious Properties] held a ‘client account’ for [Michael Misick],” he said.
The relationship between Michael Misick and Sandals, which encompassed land sales at significantly less than full market value, a $1.5 million concessionary reduction in stamp duty and the grant of Belongership to Sandals’ owner Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, was tainted, the Crown says, by payments made on Misick’s behalf to Prestigious Properties. In 2006, Beaches wished to expand the hotel property by building a complex on the adjacent land. This expansion was to be known as ‘the Italian Village’.
Payments were made by UVI to Michael Misick’s brother and co-defendant Chalmers Misick client account on: 6 March 2006 ($200,000); 10 March 2006 ($150,000); and 29 March 2006 ($150,000). Chalmers & Co provided no legal services to Unique Vacations, the payer, Mitchell pointed out. On 17 September 2010, Chalmers & Co responded to Patterson Mair Hamilton, a Jamaican firm of attorneys acting on behalf of Sandals, that the $500,000 received on behalf of their client was a political contribution made by Patterson Mair Hamilton’s client to assist with funding the re-election campaign of the PNP government. However, the 6 and 10 March 2006 payments were in fact applied to pay for Michael Misick’s wedding to Lisa Raye Misick as she was to become. On 9 June 2006, Crown Land parcels were transferred to Beaches for $700,000 and, as a result of a price reduction, Beaches saved something in the region of $862,000.
Beaches also secured a revised development agreement, again granting the entire resort significant commercial concessions including consent to build the Village to six storeys (the initial agreement was two storeys) and to increase the footprint of the building from 4.7 acres to over 7 acres. For a period of 20 years the resort was granted full exemption from any future taxes on profits, gains, turnover, future property tax, capital levy, and other taxes on capital invested. The development agreement also afforded the resort a reduction to 5% of customs import duties for a period of 25 years and a full exemption from all taxes, duties or levies on hotel promotional literature for the life of the development.
Then Governor Richard Tauwhare considered the concessions went too far, Mitchell said, but Michael Misick held the view that the development should be encouraged as Beaches was the biggest source of tourism in the island. However, Beaches stood out, as far as the Crown’s case is concerned, as particularly generous compared to other development agreements. “We restate once more: a political decision made honestly is one that is accountable at the ballot box. A political decision made when there are payments being secretly made to the maker of that decision is one that engages the criminal law. That is what this case is about, and Beaches is an example of it,” he said.
On 26 October 2006, Sandals made a payment of $150,000 to Misick & Stanbrook, which was then sent by Misick & Stanbrook by cheque to the Progressive National Party (PNP). On 18 January 2007, another $362,332 was paid by Sandals to Misick & Stanbrook and, on 22 January 2007, $350,000 was transferred to the PNP account. It is clear, Mitchell submitted, that Beaches knew what they were doing and the payments relate to the conspiracy count between Michael and Chalmers Misick in respect of money laundering, and the use of the PNP account by way of donations not being applied for the proper purpose, and the use of the account to launder money.
“All of the payments were secret . . . it is quite clear what lies behind the relationship and was kept secret. These were payments to procure advantages, which resulted in loss to TCI government and the people by stamp duty, value of land,” Mitchell said. He then turned to Salt Cay, a small island two miles long by one mile wide. Historically during the 19th century the island produced natural salt on an industrial scale. Much of the island was unoccupied Crown Land, with a population of between 100 and 130 permanent residents.
There is no doubt, Mitchell said, that the proposed development on Salt Cay was to be on an impressive and grand scale, with proposed investment of over $600 million. Further, the resort would have brought no doubt a lot of publicity and media attention to the TCI and brought employment thereby creating a good opportunity for people of this country. “…it also presented [Michael Misick] and [McAllister Hanchell] in particular with a good opportunity to obtain money,” he asserted.
According to Mitchell, the evidence shows that within a couple of months of meeting the developer, a Slovakian banker by the name of Mario Hoffman, Michael Misick and McAllister Hanchell entered into a relationship that can only be described as corrupt, that was to thrive between them for a period of three years during which they personally received quite astounding amounts of money. Michael Misick was the beneficiary of a “loan” of $6 million, and other monies. Former minister and co-defendant McAllister Hanchell benefitted in excess of $2 million. The loans were never to be repaid.
Payments into the PNP account alone exceeded $750,000, which was quickly dispersed to the advantage of Michael Misick and McAllister Hanchell (and to a lesser extent Floyd Hall, Lillian Boyce and Jeffrey Hall, all former ministers and co-defendants). Michael Misick’s brother, Thomas Chalmers Misick, acted as, for want of a better phrase, personal banker and laundered millions of dollars of criminal property for all of their benefit, Mitchell asserted. The payments appear to coincide with concessions being granted and, in one of the transactions between the Crown and the developer, the Misick administration sold 122 acres of Salt Cay at half its value thereby losing the TCI government $6.83 million.“Join a gang. It is better than family.”
This was the poster which a stunned Senator Gerry Hadeed saw as he passed through ‘a bad area’. “I was flabbergasted,” he told the Senate. “We have got to engage the youth. We have got to find things for them. Could we not have a national service for youths who may want to go into the various arms of law enforcement and have service for them, which may involve doing work in things like reforestation, and anything that could get them involved in being part of the society?” he said. The Senate was debating a motion on sustainable development. He said Government had to find ways of getting the young boys into a more productive way of life since most of the young boys and men in the country were at risk.
“We cannot continue to have them fall through the cracks,” Hadeed said. “Because where do they end up? You see it in the newspapers and it is a sad sight,” he said, suggesting that they became either the victims or perpetrators of crime. Hadeed appealed to the Government to remove VAT on staples and to use the school feeding programme to feed the poor. He also urged Government to use the $90 million allocated for Brian Lara Stadium to open the Couva Hospital.
PNM Senator Foster Cummings said it was time for a national discussion on youths living in at risk areas. “They gave a lot of attention in the media to negatives and the issues of crime coming out of these areas . . . Everybody knows that there is a problem. Maybe it is time for us to engage . . . discussion on how do we target and deal with the specific problem in certain urban centres. Am I talking about Sealots, Laventille?” he said.
Referring to the murders of two students of Success/Laventille Secondary School, 16-year-old Mark Richards and 17-year-old Deneilson Smith, Cummings said: “We were all taken aback when we lost two young boys on the outskirts of Port of Spain. And the national discussion started and finger pointing took place . . . But it all points right back to the question of poverty and education,” he said.
Cummings told Hadeed that the Couva Hospital would not stand empty for five years because the PNM would not do what the UNC did to Brian Lara Stadium. “We value the people’s money,” the PNM Senator said. Cummings said he often passed through Chaguanas, “the back road by the Police Station which takes you to the court”, and there is a “massive storage” of millions of dollars worth of PVC pipes stockpiled there. He said he was informed that the pipes were substandard and could not be used, even though they were paid for with taxpayers’ money.
Cummings said while he heard Hadeed’s call for the Government not to discard everything associated with the People’s Partnership, the problem this administration had was that “everytime you try to examine one of the policies (of the PP), you must get sidetracked with the corruption involved in the process. It is inescapable. Every programme, plan you look at, the first thing that hits you in the face is the corrupt practices that were involved.”