By Caribbean News Now contributor
BASSETERRE, St Kitts — Notwithstanding public assurances in May from Caribbean Galaxy Real Estate Ltd, a Beijing-based development company, that its five-star Ramada Inn citizenship by investment (CBI) project in St Kitts would be open by the end of this year, minimal progress in construction is evident and the property still looks to be a long way from ever receiving visitors.
The continued absence of meaningful progress has led some critics to describe the project as a ‘Potemkin Village’, an expression in politics and economics referring to any construction (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that a situation is better than it really is.
“It will be ready for business by the end of the year,” Tang Jiang, vice president of Galaxy, said unequivocally in May, claiming that his company is “very efficient”.
However, recent photos show a half-built resort, with residences situated closely together, far from finished, a far cry from Galaxy’s marketing brochure’s promise of a luxury hotel with world-class amenities.
Work commenced in 2014 but much of the structure is still not complete and there is no sign of any mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) installation, which is generally the sign that construction is nearing completion.
Furthermore, as can be seen in the latest pictures and video, the presence of any meaningful workforce is conspicuous by it absence.
In June this year, some four years after the project commenced, St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris visited the site and declared that it “is progressing at an impressive rate”, according to a government release.
“The Ramada project has our full support and over the last three years or so we have seen this project renewed as it was in terms of now having the Ramada brand being attached and we have seen improvements in the construction on this site, so generally there is a feeling of satisfaction,” he declared.
Joining him on the visit was chief executive officer of the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU), Les Khan, who said that the Ramada project had been one of the more active projects under the CBI programme over the last few years, a claim that may be technically correct since, according to industry sources, 70 out of 80 approved projects in St Kitts and Nevis were never started.
“The most applications in real estate have come from this initiative and it continues to be a driver in our real estate success,” he said.
It is not clear how Khan could call the Galaxy St Kitts Ramada resort a success when it has remained no more than a construction site since 2014.
However, he continued: “We look forward to the second phase and with the splits that we are offering we expect much more interests coming in this project and all the other projects that are applying for the split in real estate.”
According to the release, “The first phase of the project includes ocean view apartments, spa villas and garden villas, covering a total area of eight acres.”
While photographs show that some minimal activity has taken place since June, phase one can be scarcely be described as complete. However, this has not prevented the government from approving the beginning of sales of phase two.
Also in June, the chief executive of Caribbean Galaxy Real Estate Corporation, Ying Jin, failed to keep an interview appointment with Caribbean News Now in order to explain the delay, as did Harris the following day, but who was nevertheless spotted having breakfast at the appointed time with none other than the Galaxy CEO.
In recent weeks Caribbean News Now has exposed multiple examples of systemic fraud and deception taking place in relation to the St Kitts and Nevis citizenship programme, notably in Dubai, where Savory & Partners, Bluemina and other agents are offering St Kitts and Nevis citizenship at substantially below government-approved rates.
These discounts take the form of reduced prices, time-limited offers, and incentives in the form of “profit” made from the development, such as rental income.
Not only does this victimise legitimate developers, but it also cheats the people of St Kitts and Nevis out of tourism investment.
Khan and Harris have failed to respond to numerous requests for precise details of their handling of the offending sales agents.
Meanwhile, according to documentation in our possession, Galaxy continues to quote investment shares in its Ramada project starting at US$80,000 for Chinese clients, which includes citizenship, assuming certain criteria are met.
The minimum investment under the St Kitts and Nevis real estate option is US$200,000.
According to a source who contacted Galaxy directly, “Regarding to the commission scheme, they only give the agent their net price, e.g. Galaxy and T-Loft’s net price is US$80,000 and they suggest agent to say at US$100,000 up to US$150,000. The agent keeps the difference.”
In fact, according to a recent text message from Khan to a citizenship agent in Dubai, he has been actively suggesting that applications be diverted to the Galaxy project, notwithstanding the unauthorised discounts, which he also claimed not to know how to deal with.
The leader of the opposition, former prime minister Dr Denzil Douglas said last week that he would revoke the citizenship of any applicant who is found to have underpaid for St Kitts and Nevis citizenship by investment via the real estate investment route.
The alleged mismanagement of the St Kitts and Nevis citizenship program is just one of a lengthy list of complaints set out in a parliamentary motion of no confidence in Harris filed last week by the opposition St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party and which is due to be debated on Monday
In the meantime, concerned individuals in St Kitts and Nevis, along with reputable industry stakeholders, are demanding answers to the following questions:
1. Caribbean Galaxy insisted in May that the resort would be open by the end of 2018. It isn’t. Why not?
2. What action, if any, is the government taking to ensure timely completion?
3. Is there a new date for completion and opening?
4. How many jobs has the project created so far?
5. How many citizenships were allocated to phase one?
6. How many were sold?
7. Why was phase two allowed to begin when phase one was not completed?
8. Galaxy is aggressively promoting and selling citizenships not only in China, but now expanding to the Middle East, in cooperation with local agents, who are selling at unlawfully low prices. If the money is not going into construction, which seems likely, where is it going?
9. What measures is the government taking against unauthorised discounts?
10. Does the government accept that fraud is taking place? It says it has contacted law enforcement agencies. Who are they?
Earlier this year, Caribbean Galaxy also entered into a new development agreement with the government of Saint Lucia, notwithstanding the developer’s lack of timely progress in St Kitts.
At the time, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet said he had received a report from St Kitts that the Ramada project is “far advanced” after four years of construction, a claim that was not supported by photographic evidence then or now.
It has also recently come to our attention that Caribbean Galaxy is currently engaged in false and/or misleading advertising in relation to permanent residency and citizenship in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Overseas Territory. This will form the subject of a separate report.