Sandals tax row with Turks and Caicos government potentially resolved but premier remains mum

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Opposition Leader Washington Misick claims that Premier Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson has a "very, very, close relationship" with Sandals owner Gordon 'Butch' Stewart (seen here back to camera embracing Cartwright-Robinson) -- "one that is perhaps beyond just pure business.”

By Caribbean News Now contributor

PROVIDENCIALES, TCI – Sandals Resorts International has withdrawn its threat to shut down operations in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) which would have a negative impact on that country’s tourism economy.

Sandals Resorts International subsequently announced in January that it was planning to close the Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort indefinitely in 2021 because the Caribbean island’s government raised taxes on the property after declaring it would not — a move widely perceived as an attempt to pressure the government into granting it a tax amnesty — a tactic it has attempted to use in other Caribbean islands.

However, several months later, Sandals has informed travel advisors in an email that Beaches TCI will remain open. “The impending closure being considered has been rescinded and will no longer take effect,” wrote Gary Sadler, senior vice president of sales for Unique Vacations, Sandals’ sales and marketing arm.

Earlier this year opposition leader Washington Misick alleged that the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) government is in bed with Sandals and its owner, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart. The allegation was made during an interview on a local radio station when Misick told listeners, “There is a perception, rightly or wrongly that the current government has a very, very, close relationship to Stewart, one that is perhaps beyond just pure business.”

Misick said, “It supersedes politics and it goes to the legal branches of government. It’s the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. So, essentially it bounced over to the judiciary, and the attorney general has no option but to report the matter to the director of public prosecution. So, it’s not that the politicians are behind pushing it, they would wish that it never happened.”

Misick also accused the premier of a cover-up and said that now that the tax dispute is a legal matter, there is nothing that she (Cartwright-Robinson) could do about it.

Speaking to reporters in January, Cartwright-Robinson stated that “My ministry has been addressing a long outstanding issue with Beaches and my government and I are confident that with the facts in full view, we can bring an end to a critical outstanding matter that has seen its basis in an arrangement in place since the resort’s operation started in the 1990s and existed throughout every government in the TCI since then.

“Just to be clear, it has not been a matter of Beaches avoiding taxes or of the former governments or ministers of finances before me (3 actually currently sit in the current House of Assembly: the leader of the opposition, the deputy speaker and the government’s appointed member) intentionally leaving this matter unaddressed. The current matter followed an event/action that occurred in 2017.”

The TCI premier added that “I assure everyone that I will be fully transparent on this issue and will set out the facts as reported to and experienced by me as minister of finance in its clearest terms as soon as the occasion arises.”

However, to date with Sandals withdrawing their threat to cease doing business in the TCI, several days later, there is still no word from Cartwright-Robinson if the tax dispute was resolved nor was any updates released to the public relating to the tax dispute.

It was also in January that Cartwright-Robinson told reporters: “I assure the people of the TCI that this matter will be settled in the very best interest of all the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands.”

“I ask those employees of Beaches, taxi drivers, other hotel operators, airline agents and airline workers who contacted me frantically for representation to know that they are being held in highest consideration.

“I implore those void of facts to resist casting wild accusations and unwarranted attacks on elected and public officials as well Beaches Resort itself.”

Beaches has denied owing any outstanding tax and has launched a lawsuit against the government for over payment of taxes based on levying the tax on children under 12 and remitting these sums to government when they were not collectable.

A firm of attorneys in Miami are currently reviewing a possible class action on behalf of former guests at Sandals Resorts International’s Beaches resort in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) who were illegally charged local accommodation taxes and/or possibly deceived into paying such taxes that were secretly retained by Sandals for its own use and benefit instead of being paid to the TCI government.

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