Remember the Half Moon Bay saga between the government and Natalia Querard of HMB Holdings? Well, the saga continues. Both parties are getting ready for another
long battle, which undoubtedly will end, once again, at the highest court of appeal in England, the Privy Council.
It’s off to England unless Attorney General Justin Simon gets his way with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Simon is an advocate for Caribbean countries keeping final matters of appeal at home, instead of the Privy Council.
He recently told the Caribbean Media Corporation that a lack of political will is retarding the process. Simon called for a firmer commitment from the political directorate, including the United Progressive Party, of which Simon is an appointed member.
“That CCJ is part and parcel of bringing us all closer and ensuring that we have a common legal system, in terms of judicial determinations, judicial decisions and precedents for us to follow," Simon told the CMC. “I think it is really unfortunate we have not yet moved forward in respect of establishing the CCJ as the final court of appeal."
There has been opposition at every level of society on the appointment of the CCJ, from most if not all member states. The public, it appears, does not trust a final court of appeal in the Caribbean, because of what many believe would be politically manipulated. Until Simon get his wish, the Privy Council, and not the CCJ, is likely to hear arguments from Simon and Querard’s attorneys once more.
The first time around, Querard lost to Simon and the government after the Privy Council ruled in favour of the government’s acquisition of the once famous Half Moon Bay Hotel.
While the Privy Council agreed with the government on acquiring the property, the court also indicated that fair compensation must be paid in reasonable time. This is the matter which is unsettled.
Since acquiring the property in 2007, the government has failed to pay a dime for compensation. Both parties met before a tribunal in July to work out the details of fair compensation. Querard estimates that the property is worth US$60 million, and is not backing down from that price.
Simon and the government are not willing to pay above US$14 million, notwithstanding an in-house estimate of US$22 million. Simon is adamant that this “aggressive woman” will not receive what she is asking, and Querard is not likely to concede. Whatever the ruling of the tribunal, either side will appeal.
So it seems like its back to the Privy Council or CCJ on the Half Moon Bay matter. This saga is an unbelievable tale of one woman’s battle to hold onto property and government’s will to expropriate or compulsorily acquire said property. It’s not just a simple tale however, as a deeper look into this situation may be the clearest indication of the type of organization the UPP really is. Just perhaps.
In opposition, Baldwin Spencer (now prime minister), and the UPP opposed the acquisition of Half Moon Bay.
“Basically, Lester (Bird, former prime minister) wants to sell someone’s property for a huge profit to pay off a deficit that has been created by his mismanagement. That is unconscionable and a new low even for a government as controversial as Bird’s," he said.
In 2000, Bird sought to expropriate, but Spencer and the UPP disagreed. Four years later, Spencer and the UPP unseated Bird and the ALP, and took over the reigns of power. Here is where the saga took a decisive twist.
Spencer and the UPP, led by Simon, back-peddled, back-tracked, flip-flopped - call it what you may - on their initial stance. That went out the back door.
Rather than denounce the deal and stop the acquisition, what Bird and the ALP started, Spencer and the UPP completed. Incredible.
New information, it seems, was why Spencer and the UPP back-flipped. But what new information could Spencer and the UPP receive after some five years opposing Bird? It’s no secret that Bird initiated expropriation proceedings to take her property to give to Texas billionaire R Allen Stanford. That's according to Querard.
But Simon, who detests the use of the word expropriate, and prefers to use compulsorily acquire, said that the UPP never had any conversation about the property with Stanford. As a matter of fact, Simon is not clear as to the ALP’s dealings with Stanford on the said matter.
The attorney general told Al Lewis, of Dow Jones Newsplus, that he has no hard evidence of any ALP/Stanford deal. “Apparently, there seems to have been some verbal communications with Allen Stanford," he said. “I have not seen any written communication between the two. It appears too, that Allen had conducted some aerial survey of the property, but I cannot confirm because I have seen no written communication."
As to his preference of compulsorily acquire to expropriation, Simon said to Lewis, “I hate that word… is that what you call it in the United States?"
Wikipedia clarifies expropriation this way: “Expropriation refers to the confiscation of private property with the stated purpose of social equality. Unlike Eminent Domain, expropriation takes place beyond the common law legal systems and refers to socially-motivated confiscations of any property rather than to taking away of real estate. Just compensation to owners is given.”
The term is usually associated with robberies by revolutionaries to fund their political activities, such as robberies by Joseph Stalin and Kamo in the Russian Empire. It’s obvious why Simon hates the reference and why Querard maintains that the acquisition is nothing short of a barefaced theft.
Ian 'Magic' Hughes is an Antiguan Journalist.
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