Why was this Harlequin news story removed by Echo-news.co.uk ?
BFP readers supply over 30 copies of deleted Harlequin news story
As BFP reported yesterday, Echo’s news story ‘Wickford man at the centre of storm in the Caribbean property market‘ by investigative journalist Jon Austin was deleted from the internet the day after it was published in the dead-tree edition, and within hours of being posted online.
This deletion of internet content fits right in with our observation last week that articles critical of Harlequin are disappearing. In some cases entire websites have disappeared.
Barbados Free Press has received legal advice concerning our use of a news story originally published on Tuesday, July 10, 2012 by echo-news.co.uk on pages 14 and 15 of their dead tree edition, and on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 on the internet.
This is of vital interest to Bajans due to freedom of the press issues, and also of interest to those investors who have very legitimate questions about why so few units have been completed throughout the Harlequin projects list, why the construction is not following the schedules communicated earlier by Mr. David Ames and where and how investors’ money is being spent.
“There are also serious public questions about the Harlequin’s relationships with various officials and why certain governments have, among other unusual decisions, allowed Harlequin to get away with not filing financial statements as required by law for periods of up to four years.”
This is of special concern to Barbadians as our country has no Integrity Legislation, no Freedom of Information and no Conflicts of Interests rules for public officials: this despite 30 years of promises by various DLP and BLP governments.
There seems to be a concerted effort to prevent serious, in-depth public discussion about issues surrounding Harlequin, its operations, finances, and its relationships with politicians in various countries. That is bad for freedom of the press, transparency and accountability. It is also bad for democracy.
Our legal advice is that BFP is allowed to publish the Echo article in full to review and discuss the content, and the takedown. Especially in the absence of Integrity and transparency laws in Barbados, both the content of the news article and the circumstances of its removal from the internet are of vital public interest that supersedes any copyright issues.
BFP and our readers recognize that any allegations in the article are unproven, and we invite representatives from Harlequin to join in the discussion to correct or clarify any inaccuracies. If Harlequin so desires, BFP will publish any response or communications from the company with due respect and prominence as we have done before for Harlequin and others.
Why was this story removed by Echo-news.co.uk?
Are there any inaccuracies or omissions in the news story?
Readers, please feel free to use the comment section to discuss these questions and others that are of vital public interest.
Our sincere gratitude to the over 30 readers who sent us copies of the Echo-news.co.uk news article ‘Wickford man at the centre of storm in the Caribbean property market’
Here is the story. Class; discuss! …
Wickford man at the centre of storm in the Caribbean property market
Wednesday 11th July 2012
By Jon Austin
A SOUTH Essex businessman is at the centre of a political storm in the Caribbean where his firm is striving to develop a series of luxury holiday resorts.
The Harlequin group – run by David Ames from Brock Hill, Wickford – has become a political football in St Vincent, home to the company’s partially-open resort.
The Basildon-based firm is meant to be building six resorts in the Caribbean and one in Brazil.
In April, an Echo investigation revealed some of the 6,000 people who invested in the resorts wanted deposits refunded due to delays to some projects.
Now some investors have launched court claims in St Vincent in a bid to win back their cash.
At the same time staff, contractors and suppliers, working at Harlequin’s flagship Buccament Bay resort, are also taking action through the courts amid claims they haven’t been paid for several weeks.
The firm also hasn’t filed any accounts in St Vincent for the past four years, meaning investors cannot track what has happened to their cash, which has been sent overseas to build properties.
Harlequin Property in St Vincent, which owns Buccament Bay, could be struck off in the country if it fails to bring records up to date.
Mr Ames, 60, who said he was recently made a citizen of St Vincent and has the backing of the ruling Unity Labour Party, vehemently denied allegations staff were not being paid. The claims have been raised in the Vincentian parliament.
He said all resort staff were being paid on time and it was down to individual contractors to pay workers.
The business, which has a marketing office in Honeywood Road, Basildon, has so far built around 300 out of 1,120 units at Buccament Bay, with work yet to start in earnest on other resorts.
Opposition politicians from the New Democratic Party of St Vincent said at least eight claims – including some lodged by unpaid workers as well as investors – are going to court.
The party’s leader Arhnim Eustace called on the government to ensure payments were made to local contractors and employees.
He told the Echo: “I am aware a number of local contractors who say they have not been paid have filed cases in the court. This includes local contractors, workers and a supplier of vegetables.”
He said amounts claimed in cases varied, but at least one involved an alleged unpaid amount of £118,000.
There have also been reports in St Vincent that three small fires at the Buccament Bay resort, including one in an unfinished villa last month, may have been started by disgruntled employees.
Vincentian prime minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has been called on to step into the pay dispute before it turns violent.
Mr Ames said the furore had forced him to reluctantly get involved in politics.
In a statement, he said: “It has always been our position to remain impartial and go about our business, but following comments by Mr Eustace and opposition legislator Mr Leacock in both parliament and press, I feel obliged to speak out for the first time.”
He described the allegations as “wholly incorrect and baseless”.
He added: “Let me state very clearly that all (about 300) employees of Harlequin at Buccament Bay are paid on time every month.”
Mr Ames said, since partially opening the resort last year, about £3.3million had been spent on wages with a further £6.8million going on construction at the resort in the past six months.
He added: “Harlequin pays its contractors at agreed stages of the construction process and they themselves are then wholly responsible for paying their own workers and sub-contractors.
Mr Ames also blamed the allegations on a former business associate who he claimed had spread “malicious lies” to politicians and government officials.
MORE RESORTS READY NEXT YEAR
THE man behind Harlequin has promised another two resorts and a hotel will begin opening next year. Harlequin boss David Ames made the pledge after the latest concerns about the firm emerged.
Mr Ames said his business is almost ready to begin building three major resorts in the Dominican Republic.
He also said the firm was planning to open the first phase of a massive 600-acre resort in St Lucia, plus a fully refurbished hotel and the first section of a 1,000-property development – called Merricks Resort – both in Barbados, next year.
Building work continues at Buccament Bay in St Vincent and the firm also hopes to open a resort in Brazil in time for the 2014 World Cup.
In a statement, issued through Harlequin’s law firm Carter Ruck, the company said properties bought by investors at Buccament Bay three years ago were now being re-sold for well over double the purchase price.
Three hundred out of 1,120 units at Buccament Bay are complete.
It added: “Buccament Bay is now an established destination and has seen average room rates from tour operators increase from around US$350 (£226)per night on opening, to £591 per night.
“The resort has now been independently valued at approximately £155million based on an inspection in July 2011, since which time further significant works have been undertaken which will have increased its value yet further.”
Resorts in St Lucia Barbados and the Dominic Republic – which had been hit by “planning delays” – were making “strong progress”.
Harlequin said, as a goodwill gesture since last April, it had been paying guaranteed returns of 10 per cent of the purchase price to investors, even to customers who had not paid the owed balance on their finished holiday homes.
The firm said less than 1 per cent of its clients (fewer than 60) have asked for money back.
COMPANY HAS SPENT MILLIONS ON MARKETING ITS UNBUILT PROPERTIES
HARLEQUIN has failed to secure borrowing needed to finish all its resorts while spending millions on selling more unbuilt properties, the Echo has discovered.
But, despite the hitch, David Ames insists he is confident he will secure finance soon.
Some investors, many of whom ploughed personal pensions into the scheme, are concerned cash from their deposits has been retained by the firm to pay for marketing of unbuilt holiday homes.
Basildon-based Harlequin takes a 30 per cent deposit from investors – ranging from about £40,000 to £300,000. A percentage of the cash is then sent to the Caribbean to fund the building of properties. The rest of the cash is retained by the firm.
Accounts show over the last three financial years – from 2008 to 2011 – the marketing arm of the company spent £82million on selling largely unbuilt apartments.
One investor, who has £40,000 from a personal pension tied up in an unbuilt property in Barbados, said: “That is an unbelievable amount of investors’ money being used. Of course there are going to be marketing costs, but £82million in three years?”
The man, who did not want to be named, said he wanted his deposit refunded, but was told by Harlequin it would keep £5,200 to cover agents’ commissions.
The firm, which employs 71 people in south Essex and 436 worldwide, offers to help investors on modest incomes to obtain loans to pay for their properties in full once they have been built.
But so far the company has been unable to arrange any mortgages for investors whose properties have been completed.
Yet some investors remain confident.
One man said: “I have invested in Buccament Bay. Although I have not yet got the deeds, it is a great resort and I am confident I will soon be enjoying generous returns promised by Harlequin.”
Harlequin’s solicitor Carter Ruck said Buccament Bay was making increased profits, which would shortly be boosted by mortgage financing.
Mr Ames added in an update on the firm’s website: “We now have a number of seriously interested parties ready to work with us financially, not only in assisting us in building our resorts, but also to offer the mortgages to clients. Hopefully this will mean we are able to offer mortgages to those invested in Buccament Bay.
“I am confident at least two or three of the organisations I am working with will be offering us finance, thus enabling us to complete our resortts more quickly.
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