Former Turks and Caicos Islands premier Michael Misick
By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, TCI -- On Thursday, Andrew Mitchell QC described how former Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) premier Michael Misick was challenged about a proposed development on Middle Caicos that would remove an area of historical importance and land that was supposed to become National Trust land, but never became so. Misick, on being challenged by Clayton Been of TCInvest, stated words to the effect that the historically important area in question “will not stand in the way of development”.
However, before dealing with the Juniper Hole development on Middles Caicos – something that has been separately described locally as the biggest land scam in the history of the TCI – Mitchell completed his outline of the ill-fated Salt Cay development proposal.
During the ninth day of his opening statement on behalf of the prosecution in the criminal trial of Misick and others, Mitchell continued to detail millions of dollars in alleged bribes paid to Misick and former minister McAllister Hanchell by the would-be developer of Salt Cay, a Slovakian banker by the name of Mario Hoffman.
According to Mitchell, Hoffman sought to obtain a significant interest in the TCI on Salt Cay. He wanted it at the best price and on the best terms, for the purposes of developing his private island. He became friendly with Misick and Hanchell; he entertained them and gave them access to American Express Centurion cards. He paid down the cards through the bank, with which he had a relationship. As a result of the significant sums that Misick and Hanchell benefitted from, with the assistance of Misick’s brother, local attorney Thomas Chalmers Misick, who received and moved funds, Hoffman was able to ingratiate himself to the point where he received land at a massive discount, and concession of the kind that the attorney general described as “madness”.
“There was nothing in the transaction that was beneficial to the Crown, the people of the TCI, the Exchequer. It was simply the reward to [Hoffman] for the monies paid for the benefit of [Michael Misick, McAllister Hanchell] and their wives. There can be no severing of the finances from the land transactions,” Mitchell asserted.
Mitchell then turned to proposed development of Juniper Hole (also known as Juniper Point), which is an expanse of land in western Middle Caicos containing areas of outstanding natural beauty and historic interest.
“The principle beneficiary of the activities in Juniper Hole is [Michael Misick],” he said.
According to the now deceased Conrad Higgs, chairman of TCInvest, there were three developers who had expressed an interest for the rights to develop Juniper Hole.
However, on or about 10 April 2006, the development rights were granted to Arch Properties Group, a corporate group based in Miami that included the Sieger-Suarez Architectural Partnership, a firm of architects founded in 1974 by Charles Sieger and joined in 1987 by Jose Suarez.
According to co-defendant and local attorney, former speaker of the house Clayton Greene, the TCI government would receive $70 million from property sales. In reality, the government received barely ten percent of that amount.
It was at this time that, when challenged by Been over the potential loss of Crossing Place Trail, an area of historical interest to Belongers, Misick stated something like “the trail will not stand in the way of development”.
“Not the answer that Mr Been expected given its importance. Why [Michael Misick] reacted like this is a matter that will have to be considered,” Mitchell said.
On 7 June 2006, Clayton Green, acting for the Seiger Group, formed Juniper Hole Developments Limited [JHDL]. On 21 January 2008, 90 shares in JHDL were issued to The Trail Investments Limited and 90 were issued to Charles Seiger. Twenty shares were issued to Irish Eyes Limited on 5 February 2008.
A development agreement was signed by the governor on 20 September 2007 and a valuation was prepared in relation to an area of approximately 818 acres on the basis that the land would be developed as a 3-5 star hotel with villas golf course and marina. The land in question was valued at $24 million with planning permission.
By the end of 2007, Cabinet had decided that Juniper could go ahead on the basis of 800 acres for $24 million.
However, on 30 January 2008, Michael Misick proposed in Cabinet that freehold title to an even greater area of land be given to JHDL upon a deposit of $7.5 million, a legal charge of $7.5 million being registered upon the property to be satisfied within three years for the balance. Cabinet agreed to this exceptional proposal despite having agreed just 4 months earlier to sell the land for $24 million.
“There has clearly been a change. It would appear on the face of it that the amount of the land has gone up but the amount of money to be realised has gone down,” Mitchell noted.
What one would expect, Mitchell suggested, if the decision of Cabinet was being carried out faithfully, would be for the charge to stipulate that the second tranche of $7.5 million to be paid within three years. In fact, there was no provision for a second tranche of $7.5 million to be paid within three years.
Instead, the terms of the sale, to the significant advantage of JHDL, were that the ‘second’ $7.5 million would only have to be paid to the TCI government if the land was sold to a non-Belonger within ten years. And so property that was worth $24 million, plus more unvalued land had been sold for just $7.5 million.
The transfer deed did not simply give JHDL three years more to pay the remaining $7.5 million, but rather gave JHDL the equivalent of 50% Belonger discount in respect of the sale of the land.
JHDL paid $7.5 million for land that had been valued four months earlier at $24 million. The sale terms were different from that which was approved in Cabinet. The price paid was lower than that which had been represented to Cabinet on the second occasion. The sale was in breach of the Crown Land policy in force at the time, and no environmental impact assessment was conducted.
According to Ethlyn Gibbs-Williams the sale of the land for the proposed development did not sit with her understanding of process. She was particularly concerned about the environmental issues as she was at the time executive director of the National Trust and had been since 1997. In particular, she noted that there was no gazetting of the decision; there had been no heritage site review; and no planning review or plans had been submitted.
Further, according to Ms Simms-Gardiner, who at the time worked at the Land Registry, the documents provided to Mahala Wynns, the deputy governor, for signature were different to those prepared on behalf of the TCI government by Simms-Gardiner, in that the transfer of land documents related to different parcels; the transferee’s address was altered; and a number of cosmetic alterations had been made.
Simms-Gardiner, who was instructed to prepare the transfer documents, did not know about the Cabinet minute prepared on 7 February 2008 following the decision on 30 January to sell for $15 million with $7.5 million payable as a deposit into the treasury and the balance in three years secured by a charge.
Then Governor Tauwhare did not know about the change from $15 million (payable in two tranches) to $7.5 million with a discount being applied so that it became payable in the event that the property was sold to a non-Belonger within ten years. He considered that such changes without Cabinet approval would be unconstitutional.
The full text of the ninth day’s opening statement on behalf of the Crown may be found here: http://tci-sit.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/SIPT-28th-Jan-2016.pdf