British judge tells Caribbean investors to seek remedy elsewhere

Investors in the financially-troubled Harlequin group, developers of vacation resorts in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and other Caribbean islands, appear to be no further forward in their attempts to recoup their money after a British High Court judge said his was the wrong court to hear a winding up petition.

In London, on October14, a small group of 33 investors suffered a setback in their bid to recoup a £1.8 million (US$2.9 million) investment with Harlequin. They had all put money into a resort development at Buccament Bay in SVG, which they were sold through the UK sales arm of Harlequin Management Services (South East) Limited, trading as Harlequin Property.

According to a statement, Harlequin Property only acted in a “trustee” capacity, by sending clients’ money to overseas development companies in accordance with investor guidelines, minus a commission paid to advisers and used for promotion.

Neither Harlequin Management Services nor its alter ego Harlequin Property was regulated by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority.

According to Harlequin Property, Buccament Bay in SVG was hit by a series of delays. They argued that they could not repay the investors due to an ongoing legal dispute with its former auditors in which it is claiming £70 million.

On May 3, 2013, Harlequin Management Services was initially placed into administration in the UK but, as an administrator could not be found, the company went into liquidation on May 13, 2013, with a final winding up date of October 20, 2014.

The most recent case in the UK was brought before Deputy Judge Nicolas Strauss QC. The main thrust of the case before him was not that Harlequin owed the investors money; he seemed to say that was clear and undisputed. However, he decided it was being heard in the wrong jurisdiction. He said his was the wrong court to hear a winding up petition. He said it should be heard in SVG, which he said was the correct jurisdiction to apply for a winding up petition.

While, in his opinion, the investments were sold through Essex-based Harlequin Management Services, which filed for administration in April 2013, Strauss ruled that Harlequin’s overseas ventures, including Buccament Bay in SVG were not run with “bird’s eye management from Essex”.

The judge said, “In this case, there is no justification at all for a winding up order here.”

Now the judge has clarified which Harlequin company owes money to the investors and, therefore, who to sue, attention may now shift to the full list of Harlequin companies in the UK and the Caribbean:

• Harlequin Air Limited (UK)
# 07152512 (registered but dormant)

• Harlequin Hotel & Golf Management Ltd (UK)
# 06785988 (registered but dormant)

• Harlequin Management Services (South East) Limited (UK)
# 04205220 [in liquidation] (Includes the trading name Harlequin Property)

• Harlequin Property South East Limited (UK)
# 05324220 (registered but dormant)

• Harlequin Worldwide Limited (UK)
# 07152656 (registered but dormant)

• Harlequin Worldwide Travel Limited (UK)
# 05885783 (registered but dormant)

• Harlequin Holidays Limited (UK)
# 07152643 (registered but dormant)

• Harlequin Property (SVG) Limited (St Vincent and the Grenadines)
This company is incorporated in St Vincent and the Grenadines and is subject to SVG law and not UK law. It is not regulated by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority.

• Harlequin Hotels and Resorts Limited (St Vincent and the Grenadines)
Incorporated in SVG and manages Buccament Bay Resort, St Vincent, and BLU Hotel, Saint Lucia

• Harlequin Boutique Hotels Limited (Saint Lucia)

• Harlequin Boutique Hotels Barbados Limited

• Harlequin Boutique Hotels Limited

Last year Harlequin halted work on two multi-million dollar resorts in Barbados, owing employees two months’ salary, the Barbados National Insurance Scheme (NIS) about $80,000 (US$40,000) and several local businesses and contractors in excess of $3 million.

Harlequin moved out of its offices in Barbados, and the majority of its senior managers packed up and left.

The company was also in the news when its owner, British businessman Dave Ames was accused of bribing the prime minister of SVG in order to gain citizenship.

Ames, 60, rejected the accusations that he had offered Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves a “suitcase of money” in return for citizenship in SVG, where Harlequin was developing its luxury resort.

The BBC sent reporters to the Caribbean and later accused Gonsalves of accepting cash from Ames in order to receive citizenship.

Ames, who was in fact granted St Vincent citizenship, continues to face accusations in the Caribbean and at home about the firm, which has sold 6,000 vacation homes and villas since 2005, but has only built 300.

Harlequin Property has taken an estimated £300 million (US$453 million) in deposits and investors are worried whether their homes will ever be built or if they will be able to get their money back.

Harlequin’s Buccament Bay resort was also the subject of controversy following torrential rains in SVG on Christmas Eve last year, which resulted in extensive flooding of the resort. According to local reports — disputed by Harlequin management — the resort was built on a known flood plain without any environmental impact assessment being conducted.

The question remains: If the CARICOM Secretariat and Dominica UN ambassador are relating the facts, why was a sitting member of a foreign legislature (in this case the British parliament) allowed to participate in a meeting to discuss sensitive and confidential regional foreign affairs issues?

Source: Caribbean News Now

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