By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Government yesterday moved to revive a near two-decade effort to banish the legacy of Carlos ‘Joe’ Lehder by seeking Parliament’s approval for a two-way, nine acre land swap.
A resolution, brought to the House of Assembly but not debated, appears intended to facilitate the revival of efforts that first began in 2002 to develop a high-end, boutique resort on Norman’s Cay in the Exumas.
It calls for the Treasurer to exchange 8.488 acres of land, divided into three parcels, along with the “right-of-way” over several roadways, with Exuma Resort Developers and its subsidiary, NC MacDuffs Ltd. In exchange, the Treasury will receive freehold title to some 8.617 acres of land, with all parcels involved in the swap located at Norman’s Cay’s southern end.
The “superseding” Heads of Agreement entered into between the Government and then-investors behind Exuma Resort Developers on April 23, 2008, requires parliamentary approval for any sale, lease or granting of easements/rights of way to the development.
The project, which has undergone several changes of investor and commercial terms, also committed under the former Christie administration that the Treasury would receive 5 percent “of the gross sales proceeds” from all lot and real estate sales by the developer as “a preferred return”.
The Government, and wider Bahamas, have long been keen to “erase the blot” - words employed by former prime minister Hubert Ingraham - of the 1970s-1980s, when Norman’s Cay was the hub for a major multinational drug smuggling operation led by the notorious Lehder.
The resolution’s tabling indicates that the long-proposed resort project, which would be located on some of the former Lehder properties seized by the Government, may be back on again after stalling several times since it was first conceived.
The initial Heads of Agreement, signed in 2002, called for the development of a five-star Aman resort and capital investment of $25m, together with other amenities that included 40 luxury villas.
Exuma Resort Developers’ initial principals were Aman’s Adrian Zecha; his friend and business partner, Steven Manolis; and Jonathan J. Breene and John P. Conroy of the Setai Group. However, the project did not proceed as planned and little was heard from it until after the third Ingraham administration was elected to office in 2007.
The “supplemental” Heads of Agreement was then signed in 2008, after Aman and Setai decided to acquire 100 percent ownership by buying out a Bahamian investor group that had initially been their equity partners.
That group comprised attorney R James Cole; Martin Solomon; accountant Greg Cleare; and top investment adviser, Mark Holowesko. However, soon after the agreement was signed, the global financial crisis and subsequent 2008-2009 recession hit and the project once again did not proceed.
However, the Heads of Agreement was again amended around the time the Christie administration was elected to office. A May 4, 2012, transaction saw Exuma Resort Developers pay the Government some $1m for real estate on Norman’s Cay.
Tribune Business’s files show the project’s ownership appeared to change hands around this time, as it reported on November 27, 2012, that Fort Capital Management was now the lead investor and trying to negotiate the purchase of real estate owned by the four-strong Bahamian investor group that had previously been minority partners in the project.
Research by Tribune Business yesterday indicates that Fort Capital Management’s principal, Nadim Achi, remains the driving force behind efforts to revive the Exuma Resort Developers project.
NC MacDuffs Ltd, which is described in the resolution as a Bahamian International Business Company (IBC), featured in the multiple document leaks obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Incorporated in 2012 by the Lennox Paton law firm’s financial and corporate services provider arm, the ICIJ database shows Mr Achi as one of its three officers. The others are Christopher Ansell, an attorney who has since left Lennox Paton, and Ernesto Scheutz.
This newspaper’s research uncovered that Mr Scheutz is part of the developer team at the Pink Sands resort in Harbour Island. He is described as “an economist and entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the manufacturing, real estate and media industries”, and is also a managing partner in Mr Achi’s firm, which has been renamed as Fort Partners LLC.
The company’s resort properties include the Four Seasons Palm Beach, The Four Seasons Surf Club Residences & Hotel in Miami and The Four Seasons Hotel & Private Residences in Fort Lauderdale.
And Fort Partners’ website also references Norman’s Cay as a development opportunity it is continuing to pursue, although no details on its plans are provided.
An “NC MacDuffs Ltd” was recently named as one of the entities that the court-appointed trustee for the ill-fated Fyre Festival wanted to examine to determine whether it had provided true value for the payment received from now-jailed organiser, Billy McFarland.
N. C. Macduffs Ltd was said to have received $115,351 from McFarland and his Fyre Media entity between November 2016 and December 2017, but it is unclear whether this is the same company referenced in the House of Assembly and there is nothing to suggest it has done anything wrong in relation to the Fyre Festival.
Given that the Chapter 7 trustee, Gregory Messer, described it N. C. Macduffs Ltd as a “bar/restaurant”, he could equally be referring to MacDuffs Cottages and Restaurants on Norman’s Cay.