Prime Minister Dean Barrow Vehemently Denies Knowing of Sanctuary Belize Land Scam
With a huge scandal starring him in the face, Prime Minister Dean Barrow today called an urgent press conference in which he responded to the claims and allegations made in a U.S. court document against him, his fellow U.D.P. parliamentarians and the Central Bank of Belize. The allegations are related to the Sanctuary Belize scam, described by the Federal Trade Commission as the largest real estate scam in its history. Lead scammer Andris Pukke and associates, such as Luke Chadwick, convinced U.S. citizens to pay tens of thousands of dollars for prime land in southern Belize, known as Sanctuary Bay or the Reserve. Turns out, everything was a scam and Pukke and his associates made off with tens of millions of dollars. The F.T.C. began legal actions on Atlantic International Bank Limited, which has been shuttered down by the Central Bank. As part of its civil claim, on June tenth, the F.T.C. filed documents in which serious allegations are made against government officials, including the Prime Minister. On page thirteen of the claim, the F.T.C. claims that the government supported the fraud. In fact, the claim goes as far as to say that Prime Minister Dean Barrow met with Sanctuary Bay Enterprise representatives in August 2014 after the development’s problems were widely known. It says that A.I.B.L.’s C.E.O., Ricardo Pelayo, provided Sanctuary Bay Enterprise a quote it could use in a white paper presented to Barrow about the development’s significance to Belize. Today, the Prime Minister denied all allegations made against him in the claim.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“In a way I was kind of befuddled because I don’t whether to call it artful or just a hatched job because what was said by implication and innuendo is totally prejudicial in substance dealing first with myself. Nothing factual was alleged that could cause me the slightest trouble. Most of what they had to say that I found in any event disturbing appears under the caption the Belizean government supported the fraud. Again, in terms of describing the Sanctuary Bay development as a fraud I have no quarrel with that. I repeat, as for me, nobody ever come to me and said a word of complaint about the fact that these U.S. investors thought ultimately that they were being jilt by the promoters of this scheme. I have never in my life met with this Mr. Pukke. I met with nobody concerning Sanctuary Bay. I’ve gone back because they say it is August 2014, we don’t keep records of every single person that comes to see me but I guard my time in terms of people who ask for meetings jealously precisely because scammers are always about the place and one needs to be careful as to whom one would meet with. But I had absolutely no meeting of any kind of this Mr. Pukke. They are relying for this statement on one of the very persons they are charging as defendants, somebody called Chadwick who is listed as one of the defendants had absolutely no meeting with Pukke or with any other principal from Sanctuary Bay, had no discussion of any sort with anyone about Sanctuary Bay. I have never in my life been to Sanctuary Bay. There was no such white paper presented to me. There could not have been because there was nobody with whom I met that could have presented such a paper. If there had been such a presentation that surely would be on file.”
F.I.U. Was Warned of Possible Real Estate Scam
One of the most serious allegations made against the Barrow administration is that there was knowledge of the scam prior to the F.T.C.’s actions to halt it. According to the F.T.C., the Central Bank of Belize knew about the fraud, but did nothing. It says that in 2016, Glen Ysaguirre, the then Governor of the Central Bank, warned Joy Grant, who was the head of the F.I.U. at that time, that there was strong evidence of massive fraud and money laundering occurring through this project.
Joy Grant, Governor Central Bank
“I looked up and I found that an email was sent by then Governor Ysaguirre and I was at the F.I.U. That is dated twenty-sixth of September. Four days after that, I took up my appointment as Governor of the Central Bank.”
“The allegation is that the Central Bank did not act on the fraud that was talking place. The fraud that was taking place had to do with the banking industry.”
“I want to go back to the memo. What the memo, Mr. Ysaguirre said that there may be. He did not say that there was fraud and that is not said in the document. I want to make clear to every that he said that there may be, he did not say that there was fraud.”
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“The notion that somehow the Central Bank of Belize ought to have stopped this fraud or the government of Belize ought this fraud makes no sense to anybody who is familiar with our system. This is not an allegation of criminal conduct such as that would get us to move the police authorities to bring charges. This is a civil complaint. If you pay a man to build a house and he doesn’t do so, you take him to court. You don’t go to the police to get back your money. There is no kind of criminal fraud alleged. So the whole premise that, dealing firstly with the Central Bank, the Central Bank ought to have stopped what was happening from happening again I repeat makes no sense. The Central Bank is the regulator of financial matters and financial institutions, not real estate development. What would have been the authority for the Central Bank? What could the Central Bank have done?”
Central Bank Rejects Allegations of Knowledge of Scam
The Central Bank of Belize is said to have been aware of the scam, but failed to act properly in the Sanctuary Belize scam. The Bank today issued a statement categorically rejecting the allegations and reaffirming its commitment to safeguard the health of the financial system and protect the pegged foreign exchange rate. It states that the Central Bank does consider applications by any individual, including Sanctuary Belize, involving non-residents because of the foreign exchange regulations the Central Bank is charged with administering. With regard to this development, the Central Bank ultimately froze the few Sanctuary Belize-related applications submitted for Central Bank’s consent for transfer of land title pursuant to Section Forty of the Exchange Control Regulations Act, Revised Edition 2011. Allegations of impropriety by real estate developers, whether pertaining to the actual transaction or the issuance of land documents, are the domain of civil courts and law enforcement authorities. In respect of correspondence by former Governor, Glen Ysaguirre to now Governor Joy Grant warning of a money laundering scheme, the Central Bank says it was an informal message regarding ongoing disputes between Sanctuary Belize investors and without any evidence of the alleged fraud.
Sanctuary Bay Defrauded American Investors Only
Notwithstanding the Central Bank’s role as the country’s financial regulator, questions are being asked about its apparent lack of oversight in respect of the Sanctuary Bay real estate scam. When asked about the matter, Governor Joy Grant reiterated that the transaction involved Americans solely and that A.I.B.L. was not necessarily out of line in the manner in which it operated with its clients.
Joy Grant, Governor, Central Bank of Belize
“This was a real estate deal, it wasn’t a banking deal and this was between Americans and Americans, so we don’t go in to a bank in our reviews looking or did we find any such fraud.”
“Is it not clear from the record, and I have not seen the unexcavated record, I only know anecdotally, is it not apparent that the A.I.B.L. was operating a bit fast and loose insofar as they were taken accounts from persons within Belize which perhaps would not have been the prescribed course of action and their portfolio was expanding very quickly and perhaps unsustainably?”
“No, I would not say that.”
Prime Minister's Press Conference, Setting The Record Straight On Sanctuary Bay - July 10th, 2019