Troubled Caribbean resort firm applies for administration

By Caribbean News Now contributor

LONDON, England — The financially troubled multi-million dollar Caribbean investment firm Harlequin Property has applied for its sales arm to go into administration.

The business, run by the Ames family in Britain, blames negative publicity for the decision, but says it could still secure clients’ investments.

The firm, which is promoted by big name sports celebrities lodged an intention to appoint administrators for Harlequin Management Services (South East) Limited at the High Court in London on Monday.

A statement signed by director Carole Ames said: “The company is or is likely to become unable to pay its debts.”

The news has exacerbated fears over the future of at least 6,000 investor’s deposits, many paid through personal pensions.

The company, which is promoted by former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, golf legend Gary Player and footballer Andy Townsend and trades as Harlequin Property, has taken more than £300 million (US$453 million) in deposits from at least 6,000 investors for luxury vacation accommodation across the Caribbean since 2006.

However, it has so far built just 300 of the thousands of properties promised and is being investigated by local police, the UK Serious Fraud Office and Financial Services Authority.

The move comes after around 40 investors served statutory demands on the firm for monies owed to them, which could have lead to a winding up petition if left unpaid.

Harlequin maintains its Caribbean-registered firms, which owns and plans to build the resorts, will continue.

It said: ‘Due to unfounded negative publicity in the public domain that has been instigated since 2011, the day-to-day UK sales business of Harlequin Property has become increasingly challenging, to the point that it is now almost impossible.

‘The underlying business model of the Harlequin group is strong and the directors are confident that, with the external finance and property completions anticipated, our investors will see significant development at our resorts in the near future.

‘Investors can be assured that the company sees no reason why these circumstances would threaten their investment with Harlequin. In fact, the measures set out above are a means of further securing their investments from external and contrary interests.”

Harlequin recently halted work on its 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.

The company was also recently in the news when its owner, British businessman Dave Ames was accused of bribing the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) in order to gain citizenship.

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

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

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

In a statement at the time from its British office, Harlequin said it was in the process of restructuring elements of its business.

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