Baha Mar developer seeks legal action against 'toxic' property sale

Baha Mar Casino and Resort, Nassua, Bahamas

Former Baha Mar Casino and Hotel developer Sarkis Izmirlian has requested the government of the new Bahamas PM Hubert Minnis to impose a moratorium on the final sale of the $4.2-billion development to Chow Tai Fook. According to reports, the developer also warned that he was considering taking legal action against former PM Perry Christie over claims of "state-sponsored discrimination." 

China Export-Import Bank was originally funding Izmirlian's BMD Group project to develop the Baha Mar Casino and Hotel, which was scheduled to open in 2014. However, BMD faced various delays and difficulties that ultimately led the developer to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2015. The developer blamed China State Construction Engineering and its China Construction America Bahamas subsidiary for all of the troubles it faced. Afterward, BMD submitted an unsuccessful offer to restart the development. In October, the Christie administration decided to liquidate the entire project in order to protect the Bahamas' economy. Two months later, the administration signed a purchase agreement with Chow Tai Fook. The group soft-launched the 1,800-room New Providence Island resort in late-April with its Sky Warrior Bahamas subsidiary managing the property. The group are hoping to have the development's 96,875 square-foot casino fully operating soon with 1,500 slots and some 150 gaming tables.   

In the letter Izmirlian reportedly sent to Minnis, he called the multi-million-dollar tax incentives Christie's administration granted to Chow Tai Fook Enterprises "toxic" and "one-sided." Then, he claimed that the Bahamas could not afford this "wholesale giveaway" due to its unstable financial situation. Izmirlian stated that an investigation would enable Minnis' administration to assess "the toxicity" of the former Christie administration's business with the Chinese firm "and how the best interest of Bahamians can be met." The letter read, “Place a moratorium on the completion of any sale of Baha Mar [Casino and Hotel] and other transactions under these agreements. Re-open the casino license investigation and report the findings of the Gaming Board [for the Bahamas], given the extensive public record about the associations of Chow Tai Fook Enterprises Limited’s owners; a record that appears to have been intentionally and conveniently ignored under the previous administration.”

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The letter also claimed that the agreement between the Christie administration and Chow Tai Fook had violated the Bahamian constitution and statute law. Allegedly, it imposed that the developer and foreign members of his senior management team could not participate in the claims payout process, or, unlike other creditors and tenants, renew existing shop or restaurant leases. According to the letter, “The heads of terms also underscores the extremes to which the former government of the Bahamas and China Export-Import Bank conspired to impair the economic interests and reputation of the original developer. Not content to stop at the confiscation of the resort, the heads of terms expressly prohibits any payments to companies associated with Mr Izmirlian, a long-time resident and the largest foreign investor in the history of the Bahamas, as well as payments to the former expatriate executives of Baha Mar [Casino and Hotel]. This is state-sponsored discrimination, contrary to the laws and constitution of the Bahamas, and sets an awful precedent for foreign investment in the Bahamas. Accordingly, BMD [Holdings] is considering its legal options against the parties involved in constructing these highly questionable agreements.”

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