The Government of Belize has come under serious fire from the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage for awarding secret contracts to investors who do not have a reputation or “proven ability” in petroleum exploration, as stipulated in Section 11 of the Petroleum Act.
More specifically, the Barrow administration has been faced with a volley of questions over the deal landed by Paradise Energy Limited, which was formed by the Prime Minister’s nephew, Kimano Barrow, and Alfredo Acosta, to potentially conduct oil exploration in the Maya Mountains—an area which includes 14 protected areas.
The newspaper of the Opposition People’s United Party, The Belize Times, reported in its headline article today that the ownership of Paradise has changed hands—to very familiar names: Oren F. Miles and Allen Saum. According to the article, Barrow and Acosta have recently transferred control to Miles and his nephew, Saum.
Amandala readers will recall that in October 2007, Saum made serious corruption allegations against the former administration, alleging that an associate had been bribing them for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Saum had alleged that $100,000 had been paid as a sweetener to settle the petroleum contract.
Miles later disassociated himself from Saum’s allegations.
The contract awarded at the time, and dated October 12, 2007, was granted to Miles Tropical Energy, in which Alfredo Acosta also has 20% interest. Amandala has records which list the founding directors of Miles Tropical Energy, which was granted a concession just east of the concession later received by Paradise. It covers both onshore and offshore territories, including the Culture Capital of Dangriga and South Water Caye and Carrie Bow Caye, along the inner channel of the Belize Barrier Reef.
The records indicate that Oren F. Miles held 60% controlling interest in Miles Tropical Energy, which the 2009 records indicated that he has continued to hold.
The well-known Belizean businessman, Chayben Bou-Nahra, who was said to have committed suicide in 2008, held 10% of the shares in Miles Tropical Energy, which he had willed to his daughter, Madison, but which are held in trust for her by Chayben’s mother, Maria, and sister, Rachelle.
It is clear that the deal with Miles and Paradise were orchestrated using different schemes. In the first contract Miles got in 2007, he, Miles, was at the forefront of the deal, holding majority shares from the outset.
Interestingly, his nephew, Saum, came in later with the transfer of 599 shares between 2007 and 2009 from other shareholders, paying roughly $3,500 in consideration, according to company documents.
In the deal with Paradise, the locals, Barrow and Acosta, are being regarded as “front men” for Miles, his son, Oren F. Miles II, and his nephew, Saum.
Amandala has learned that Miles has a petroleum company in the US called Miles Petroleum Corporation, as well as a farm company OFM Inc, both based in Illinois. Internet information on the companies, as well as their owners, is scanty.
We note that at his press conference last Wednesday, February 9, 2011, when Barrow was questioned about the Paradise contract, he said: “The fact is, that the locals in the company no doubt have partnered with foreigners.”
The Prime Minister did not proceed to call any names, although the transfer of control to Miles and Saum is reported to have occurred on Friday, February 4—exactly one week after Amandala broke the story on the Paradise concession over the Maya Mountains.
In commenting on the reported transfer of control of Paradise Energy from Barrow and Acosta to Miles and Saum, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, co-chair of the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage and vice president of Oceana, told Amandala that Prime Minister Barrow had to have known that this development had happened at the time he gave his press conference.
While the Coalition was questioning the abuse of the Petroleum Act, they were preparing their defense, said Matura-Shepherd, an attorney.
She said, however, that the recent transfer does not take away from the fact that those who got the contract, Barrow and Acosta, did not have the expertise and are trying to acquire it after the contract was awarded.
She also questioned why Paradise would be paying $300,000 in fees, as government officials have said, when Government has indicated that the area has no potential for oil.
Responding to this probe last week, Barrow said, perhaps they thought they would be the beneficiary of “fool’s luck.”
Matura-Shepherd told us that the companies may be doing more than oil exploration, as a prospecting license may also allow them to look for other kinds of minerals, such as gold.
She told Amandala that she is now, via this medium, publicly calling on Andre Cho, the Director of Geology and Petroleum, and Minister of Natural Resources Gaspar Vega to give the Coalition copies of the production sharing agreement (PSA) with Paradise Energy.
“Every week when we feel we have solved one thing, there is another [problem] that crops up,” said Matura-Shepherd.
She also said that there have been reports that two other concession blocks are being amalgamated, as one big name local is reportedly selling out to foreign interests.
Last week, Prime Minister Barrow said, “The fact that the locals have partnered with foreigners and are in a position to pay Government its money and fund what needs to be done is a situation where there is no harm, no foul.”
He pointed to a number of such arrangements, including Belize Natural Energy, which partnered with a local, Mike Usher, after whom the Spanish Lookout wells are named.
Alistair King, who Barrow said is the owner of Blue Creek Exploration, is the local representative of US Capital, which has a concession in Toledo.
Matura-Shepherd pointed us to information published by CHx Belize, the joint venture partner of Belize Natural Energy, indicating that CHx also has partnerships with two other petroleum companies in Belize:US Capital and West Bay.
The man behind that Bahamas registered company, CHx, is Alex Cranberg, the husband of BNE’s chair Susan Morrice.
Barrow said last week: “Do you think these [locals] are going to put up their own money?” He said that if locals can show they are capable of acquiring the money and getting the required expertise from abroad, then the Government of Belize has no problem giving them the concessions.
Matura-Shepherd described the petroleum industry, as it now stands, as “incestuous.”
To date, our newspaper has received no explanation as to why a company that acquired a concession in its own name back in 2007 would deem it necessary to use locals as alleged “front men” to acquire a concession in 2010. Amandala