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FinMin turns to attorney general for legal guidance on casino resort bids - Bid approvals expected by September

Published:Friday | March 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, the senior counsel for Celebration Jamaica Development Ltd. - File

 Avia Collinder, Business Reporter

The Ministry of Finance and Planning says it has asked the attorney general to weigh in on whether any of the bids for integrated resort developments - or casino resorts - ought to be disqualified.

Of four bids, only one investor included full payment of the mandatory US$150,000 application fee at the opening of the bids last December; others paid in tranches and at least one said its fee was prepaid in 2008.

The ministry declined comment on which bids were to be the subject of the legal review, but said there were other issues beyond the delayed fees on which it has sought legal guidance.

Up to Monday, a canvas of applicants by the Financial Gleaner indicated that all have remitted the fee - one of whom paid twice, by its principals' own assessment.

On February 14, P.J. Patterson, the senior counsel for Celebration Jamaica Development Limited, wrote to the ministry outlining the circumstances under which the first payment was made, but also enclosing a new cheque for the full US$150,000 fee.

"My client maintains that the US$150,000 was advanced by Celebration Jamaica upon the request of the Government of Jamaica and paid over on May 1, 2008, in lieu of any future fees that Celebration Jamaica would have been required to pay during the application process," Patterson wrote in a letter for the attention of Ann-Marie Rhoden.

"Celebration Jamaica did not hesitate to do so as requested, in view of the commitment given by the prime minister of the day and the subsequent reassurances by the finance minister then for the grant of a casino licence in the parish of St James. Despite this and in order to eliminate any delays in the process of its integrated resort development proposal, the principals of Celebration Jamaica are prepared to send an amount for the application fee of US$150,000 and sort out the matter of payments subsequently, thereby avoiding any jeopardy to their legitimate expectation," Patterson said in the letter shared by his office with the Financial Gleaner.

Amaterra Jamaica Limited of Trelawny paid 15 per cent of the fee in December, and the rest at the end of February, but the company told the Financial Gleaner that there is a hold on the second cheque of US$127,500 until the ministry convenes the meeting requested to clarify information it believes will impact the project's financing.

Amaterra, too, shared corres-pondence from Financial Secretary Devon Rowe dated February 3, in which the finance ministry official acknowledged the meeting request but instructed Amaterra "to pay the balance of the application fee (US$127,500) by February 28, 2014, failing which the entity's application will not be considered."

Casino Royale Jamaica Limited, whose resort is planned for Drax Hall, St Ann, paid its fee some days after the bid opening, having previously advised the ministry that the funds would have been remitted by the latest mid-December.

The fee for Harmony Cove, in which the Jamaican Government is a partner, was paid in full at the bid opening.

APEC HIRED FOR REVIEW

Outside of the legal opinion sought from the attorney general, the finance ministry said all four bids were otherwise being reviewed by Apec Consultants, which was contracted to do the assessment.

The bids that make the cut and are approved will be issued an IRD order, which then qualifies them to apply for a casino licence, three of which are up for grabs. That licence application is a separate transaction with the Casino Commission.

The ministry said its decisions on which bids would qualify for development orders would be made by September.

"All applications are with the project coordinator for review," the ministry said. "No development has been approved. Reviews are under way."

The ministry stressed that no approvals had yet been given due to media reports last week that Celebration Jamaica, whose lead investor is Robert Trotta, had got the green light. The reports emanated from a press event in Montego Bay in which Trotta laid out plans for his casino resort.

Under the IRD project, investors are expected to spend a minimum US$1.2 billion in developing casino complexes, featuring at least 2,000 hotel rooms and other facilities.

The investor will be eligible to apply for the casino licence after delivering the first 1,000 hotel rooms, and producing a schedule for development of the other 1,000.

Last Friday, the ministry said that as at that date none of the bids were disqualified, but that it was "awaiting guidance from the attorney general regarding any possible disqualification".

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com

FinMin turns to attorney general for legal guidance on casino resort bids

Bid approvals expected by September

Outside of the legal opinion sought from the attorney general, the finance ministry said all four bids were otherwise being reviewed by Apec Consultants, which was contracted to do the assessment.