Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands
By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, TCI -- On Wednesday, the eighth 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 continued his outline of a development agreement that then deputy attorney general (now attorney general) Rhondalee Braithwaite-Knowles described at the time as “madness”.
On Wednesday, Mitchell said that the development on Salt Cay, a small island two miles long by one mile wide, was to be on an impressive and grand scale, with proposed investment of over $600 million, which “also presented [Michael Misick] and [former minister McAllister Hanchell] in particular with a good opportunity to obtain money”.
On Thursday, Mitchell described in more detail the “quite astounding amounts of money” received by Misick and Hanchell as part of an allegedly corrupt three-year relationship with the Salt Cay developer, a Slovakian banker by the name of Mario Hoffman.
Amongst other things, Mitchell outlined the circumstances in which savings of $6.83 million accrued to Hoffman on a purchase of 100 acres of Crown land on Salt Cay at half its real value, which he noted “bore a striking similarity to a $6 million ‘loan’ [from Hoffman’s bank] applied for by [Michael Misick] …19 days later on 30th April 2007”.
The sale of Crown land to Hoffman was carried out, Mitchell said, without any civil service oversight or review and was consistent with the secret relationship growing between Michael Misick and McAllister Hanchell and the developer.
As Mitchell noted on Wednesday, Hoffman had arranged for Michael Misick and McAllister Hanchell and their wives to be given Centurion American Express Cards, which are usually reserved for the wealthiest of American Express clients.
McAllister Hanchell’s application for his card was approved on 13 April, the day after Cabinet resolved to sell the land to Hoffman’s Salt Cay development company. Two directors of J&T Banka, a part of J&T Financial Group in which Hoffman had an interest, underwrote $75,000 of any default in payment.
Also less than a week later (19th April 2007) all around the time that this land is being sold, the Crown say, at a deep discount to its true value, the same two directors increased the guarantee on Michael Misick’s Centurion Card to $200,000.
Michael and Lisa Raye Misick spent over $4.8 million on the Centurion Card between January 2006 and April 2009. McAllister Hanchell spent over $1.1 million between April 2007 and May 2009.
“So, there is this coincidence of personal benefit at the time that the developer is being given advantage by the government as to the development of the land,” Mitchell said.
Not only was Hoffman enabled to purchase Crown land at just one half of its real value, one Belonger, Earl Ingham, in particular lost land on Salt Cay to Hoffman he had leased and over which he had been granted permission to buy for the purposes of his own development, without any explanation.
On 14 July 2008, an amended development agreement was signed by then Governor Tauwhare.
In Braithwaite-Knowles’ view, whilst the earlier 2006 development agreement concessions were generous, they were in keeping with what other developers had secured, but those contained in the 2008 development agreement were what she considered to be “madness”.
Sometime later Hoffman’s development company applied for planning permission to construct a dock barge on Salt Cay. This application was supported by an environmental impact assessment.
On 17 December 2008 Clyde Robinson, the director of planning, recommended that the Physical Planning Board reject the application because the environmental impact assessment was flawed. The Board agreed and the application was rejected.
On 9 January 2009, McAllister Hanchell summoned Robinson to a meeting. The meeting was attended by Michael Misick and Hoffman’s representative, who was allowed to speak and to challenge the rejection. Misick and Hanchell were abusive and swore at Robinson and attempted to intimidate him into reconsidering his recommendation.
Hanchell demanded that an extraordinary meeting of the Physical Planning Board be convened and that the decision be reversed. The meeting took place on same day 9 January 2009. The decision was reversed. The decision took 15 minutes to make.
The full text of the eighth day’s opening statement on behalf of the Crown may be found here: http://tci-sit.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/SIPT-27th-Jan-2016.pdf