Barbados Free Press republishes deleted Harlequin news story

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.

For discussion:

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.

Thank you!

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.

© Copyright 2001-2012 Newsquest Media Group

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22 Comments

Filed under Barbados, Business & Banking, Freedom Of Information, Freedom Of The Press, Offshore Investments, Political Corruption

22 responses to “Barbados Free Press republishes deleted Harlequin news story

  1. A policy holder

    Eloquence

  2. I will pass by Hastings today and see what’s happening, since this is beginning to remind of Hamlet’s olfactory senses…

  3. yatiniteasy

    “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.”
    Come on Mr Ames! His company has not even completed the three show homes and “village” at Merricks Barbados, even though they have already sold over 1000 units. Same story in St Lucia.Nothing to show for investors money after years of promises.If he thinks opening the show village in 2013 will satisfy investors, he is delusional..
    Harlecon.net was probably shut down because it exposed so many of his lies. example..there is a 2009 video in which Mr Ames shows where the Marina at Buccament Bay is being built. As of today, 3 years later, work has not even started on the Marina. There is no “Trader Vicks” Restaurant. The room rates he mentions they are getting at Buccament are inflated by 100%, and this can be verified by the rates on various tour operators websites.I could go on for pages, showing similar differences between what Mr Ames says, and what are the facts for anyone with eyes to see.
    A reliable source in St Vincent told me that one of the largest food and liquor distributors has cut their credit due to unpaid bills.
    This story will not end well for a lot of people, as you can only delay investors for so long, and you can only shut down investigative reports for so long. One day, the bubble will pop.
    The following video is hard to watch, and listen to.Its from 2009

  4. 67

    Painful indeed, 1200 homes sold in St Lucia back in 2009. As of this morning, not even a show home has started at Marquis Estate, possibly the most challenging site to build on you can imagine and with virtually no beach. As pointed out, why build show homes if places are sold out, like Merricks. For more absurdity from Ames, try this one – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4ENa9WOZaE where he talks about the marina at Bucc Bay.

    yatiniteasy, Mr Ames is delusional and living in a parallel universe where he is a qualified developer and hotelier and not a bankrupt double glazing salesman with absolutely no experience or qualification to be getting involved in tourism developments. He can sell, and he has sold, but beyond that the proof is in the pudding, and the deals cannot be blamed on the economy ( the below 30% occupancies and terrible rate being achieved at Bucc Bay and Blu, are however related to global financial problems) The sales were already made as Ames points out, so the homes should already have been underway. As you say, could go on for pages, and one day someone will again (as harlecon did) Good luck to the investors, cannot see how this can end well for them.

  5. Mini version of Clico

    Walks, talks and looks like our own caribbean Clico ponzi scheme.

    No politician and certainly no reporter wants to look under the rug.

    They know it’s not pretty!

    Maybe we can hide it or shuffle it to the back?

  6. Please take time from your busy schedule and spend some time in one of the Merricks show-homes. This is what high-quality, green building is all about. If this is what the future holds for Barbados, then I envy you.

  7. 144

    Why have a show home if all homes had been sold several years ago. Why not actually build the homes? Surely ames would not sell homes before planning permission, or before the developments had actually been fully designed? Or spend investor money before ensuring financing was in place to meet the comitments to those buyers? That would be wrong…harlequin can build the nicest greenest hthat known to man, but unless he builds 6000 of them quickly then the impression this is a scam will gain more and more momentum.

  8. 64

    i may be wrong but are harlequin saying that their current auditors massive disclaimer is because their previous accountants failed to keep accurate records. again correct me if i’m wrong but i believe wk accountants also quantified the accounts and actually resigned because they were unhappy with what they had found. a letter of resignation is at companies house

  9. 144

    Am sure investors are delighted that the sales arm is making “profits” This means commissions are making them (Ames and co) all money – this does not get the investor homes built. What use is it to investors if Harlequin are making good sales commissions when their homes are not built and the only thing they have managed to build in years is losing money hand over fist. There is no upside for investors in this tale.

  10. 195

    @Douglas…obviously a Harlequin operative, are you saying that the “show homes”at Merricks are finished?They are not. Even if they are finished, after 6 years since Harlequin started selling the project, when will the 1000 plus homes that investors have paid for, become available?Are there any show homes to look at in St Lucia…or Dominican Republic…or Brazil..the answer is no, because that is not Mr Ames`s “Business Model”

  11. 144

    A very simply understanding of Caribbean tourism, or any resort understanding for that matter, or knowledge of the locations selected by Ames and the prices sold for, as well as understanding what happens to the deposit funds from investors and the massive expenses elsewhere incurred by Harlequin, would show that this scheme/scam as presented and allegedly being run can and will never work, and the downturn in the global economy is not the reason. Hopefully the FSA will now stop innocent yet possibly naive investors from losing more money for the sole benefit of Ames and family who have enriched themselves whilst their investors lose out.

  12. West Side Davie

    I am amazed that Harlequin hasn’t sued your ass! Not that you did anything wrong but that’s their style.

    Any ideas on why they haven’t sued you BFP?

  13. 224

    Using investor money of course…

  14. Henry

    Harlequin have now stated that they are about to start yet another boutique hotel on the South Coast of Barbados due to the high demand
    http://harlequin.propertiesabroad.com/harlequinhotel.php
    The Hotel

    Luxury Boutique Hotel – Opening 2013 (never mind planning)
    Stunning white sandy beach in SW Barbados
    Served by own private airline ( Are they expecting a 30 year old twin engine Piper to fly from Gatwick)
    Designed to compete with Sandy Lane Hotel ( So there is no reason for the Government to carry on with The Four Seasons, or are the Government in talks with Ames to finish that project? )
    Some anticipated facilities:
    Spa by ESPA and gymnasium
    Trader Vic’s bars and restaurants (So just Trader Vic’s then)
    Pat Cash Tennis Club
    Have a look at the Alemanda Hotel that was going to open in 2012 and now 2013. Who will get the blame for this hotels delays?
    With the fantastic claims on returns there should be a mad rush
    Your Returns
    All management, renting, furnishing and general hassle is taken care of. Expected room rates are around £400 (1258BDS) to £600(1870BDS)/night for studios and £800(2500BDS) to £900(2800BDS) for a two bedroom suite. Target occupancy is 310 nights/year. Following your chosen guaranteed rental term of 0, 2, 5 or 10 years, the variable net income acheived by the hotel is shared equally with you.
    The claims made for Buccament Bay and the first H hotel in St Lucia are not independently audited and with local sources stating they are nearer to 25 to 30% these claims look highly improbable.

  15. Henry

    My apologies but in my rush to share the good news with everyone of this fantastic offer forgot to mention you should listen to the first 10 minutes of this broadcast that is if your into due diligence
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/moneybox
    Pension scams under investigation 21 Jul 12
    Sat, 21 Jul 12

  16. 144

    Henry, Blu in St Lucia was sold to investors based on a rate of US$700 per night, comparing a couple of top hotels in St Lucia as comparatives. The hotel is a 2-3 star roadside hotel that currently rents for less than US$100 per night and is virtually empty. They will say anything to get sales as everyone has known for years, and now not before time it looks like the SFO are going to investigate and put a stop to all these fraudsters ripping off people’s pensions by selling unregluated schemes (scams) stating forecasts that are not based on any version of reality. They are bold faced impossibilities, and not only that, they have been proven to be untrue. Bucc Bay losing US$1m per month is not quite the same as offering returns to investors. The actual running at 30% is not quite the same as running at the 90% that is being quoted. SFO, sort it out finally, don’t let more people lose their savings.

  17. yatiniteasy

    I am somewhat surprised that our Government has not picked up on The Harlequin operations as being at the very least , highly questionable, and at the worst, one of the biggest Ponzi schemes the Caribbean will experience this decade.

  18. Pingback: Harlequin Barbados: More promises to news media, but where’s the action? | Barbados Free Press