Middle Caicos land advertised for sale (click on image for full size)
By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands -- The recent appearance of an advertisement in the Summer/Fall 2014 Turks and Caicos Real Estate (TCREA) magazine of land being offered for sale as “development land” by Christies International Real Estate has renewed attention on what has been described as the largest land scam in the history of the Turks and Caicos Islands TCI.
The original deal, which was intended to transfer whole blocks of land on the western end of Middle Caicos, understated the size of the blocks, which survey records indicate were in at least one case twice the size documented on the block’s transfer record. The surveyors’ records have the land and adjacent potential marina sites shown at over 2,500 acres.
The sales price was an astonishingly low $15 million but only $7.5 million was paid to government. A second payment due in February 2011 went unpaid because the Miami-based developer was forced into bankruptcy shortly after the purchase.
One time leader of Michael Misick’s Progressive National Party (PNP) Clayton Greene, who was serving as the speaker of the TCI House of Assembly at the time, represented the buyer.
A loan of $12.5 million was provided to the developer by the then Belize Bank – now British Caribbean Bank Limited, which is ultimately controlled through holding companies by Lord Michael Ashcroft, described by the Economist as being powerful, rich and elusive – “the right-wing pimpernel of British politics.”
With only $7.5 million paid to the TCI government, $5 million from the proceeds of the loan remain unaccounted for.
Another questionable feature of this transaction was that freehold title was given to the developer with only one half of the extremely low price paid. This had never been done before in the history of Crown land sales in the TCI.
A portion of the land sold includes one half or more of the Middle Caicos public causeway, two miles of the public road to the causeway and 15 or more subdivided sites that were recorded in the names of known PNP supporters in Middle Caicos.
Also located within the land purportedly sold is 138 acres of the historic Crossing Place Trail, which had been promised to the National Trust, rare bird sanctuaries, a natural conch nursery, grave sites and ruins of the homes of the former residents of the area, who were members of the well known Harvey family in Middle Caicos.
With the recent offer for sale of the land subject to this disputed and questionable transaction, a number of questions are being asked locally, not least of which relate to certain discrepancies between what the advertisement claims and the actual land records in the survey office in North Caicos.
• The advertisement claims there are 1,080 acres for sale; however, the land records indicate there are 2,580 acres in the “parcels” listed.
• The advertisement says there are 15 parcels. There is one complete block -- Block Number 40101 -- which comprises 1,930 acres. This includes land, a marina site and more than half of the causeway and two miles of the public road.
• The second block -- originally 40102 (650 acres) -- has since been subdivided into 14 parcels -- 11 parcels of about four acres each; one parcel of approximately 16 acres and one parcel of about two acres or less. The remaining portion of the block is the 14th parcel. The small parcels were assigned to certain residents of Middle and North Caicos and at least one of these was illegally “flipped”.
• A property with liens of $20 million (the $12.5 million Belize Bank/British Caribbean Bank mortgage plus $7.5 million still owed to the government) is being advertised for only $16 million.
• Who is the current owner of the land in question? Is it the original “purchaser” Juniper Hole Development or did the government take it back and it thereby reverted to Crown land? Or did Belize Bank foreclose on its mortgage?
• What is the situation regarding the historic Crossing Place Trail? If this is Crown land again, there is an ideal opportunity to survey what should be a protected area along the shore to protect the TCI heritage (Crossing Place Trail, Blowing Hole, etc.). This was supposed to have been done years ago for the National Trust.
Last year, Lawrence Harris, head of the civil recovery team charged with reclaiming public assets dissipated through systemic government corruption, claimed that he was investigating the matter but has been silent ever since.