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BOMBED BY THE F.T.C. PM Barrow Says ‘It Wasn’t Me!’

BOMBED BY THE F.T.C. PM Barrow Says ‘It Wasn’t Me!’
July 13
11:05 2019

Prime Minister Dean Barrow called an unusual last minute press conference on Wednesday at the Princess Ramada Hotel, a venue seldom used, and unleashed an almost two hour tirade vigorously refuting claims made by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about his alleged involvement with the Sanctuary Bay real estate scam, which defrauded consumers of approximately US $100 million and is under investigation in a US court. He stopped short of calling the FTC outright liars but he stressed that the FTC’s report was grossly untrue and inaccurate.

A visibly frustrated Barrow told the media that he had planned to call a press conference and handle the matter less civilly, however, after speaking with the US Charge D’ Affairs he decided not to respond in such an abrasive manner. He jokingly noted that in any case, the FTC is not the kind of agency one looks to get even with, calling the idea a fool’s errand. “I will not look to tangle with the FTC. Frame it under the heading of taking one for the team,” he said. Barrow said he wouldn’t even know where to begin in challenging such a powerful US agency.

He announced that just a half-hour before the start of his press conference, that the FTC had filed a court motion for a stay of proceedings against AIBL, which “would resolve all matters in dispute amongst the FTC and [AIBL]”. Barrow further elaborated that the liquidation process would continue to be carried out by the appointed liquidator, Julian Murillo, per the terms of the settlement and that an official communication would be issued following approval of the settlement by the FTC’s five commissioners. “The government of Belize, including Prime Minister Dean Barrow and the Central Bank of Belize provided substantial assistance in helping achieve this agreement in principle,” the latest FTC filing said.

The report which caused waves, however, was filed on June 10 in a Florida court, a week before Barrow announced the AIBL settlement at a House Sitting, in opposition to an application from AIBL for Chapter 15 bankruptcy recognition. It claimed among other things that in 2014 Barrow had met with Sanctuary Bay principals, including Andris Pukke, who has been accused of orchestrating and running the scam from an American prison. The FTC filing further said Pukke and his associates presented a “wish list” of help they wanted from the PM. The FTC also claimed that a white paper relaying the significance of the development was presented to the PM; however, Barrow refuted all allegations saying he never met with Pukke or anyone concerning Sanctuary Belize. The FTC also claimed that Pukke and his associates Luke Chadwick and AIBL CEO Ricardo Pelayo discussed Barrow owing them a great deal of positive sentiment for the economic growth attributed to Sanctuary Bay’s ‘Buy Belize’ ad campaign, noting that Barrow would be likely to help.

Barrow also made light of the fact that the FTC’s intelligence relied partially on statements from Chadwick, one of the very accused defendants in the FTC investigation. He added that even if a meeting had taken place, that allegation does not constitute any wrongdoing or involvement on his part.

The FTC further claimed that in a draft of a marketing communication, Sanctuary Bay intended to relay to US consumers that the Prime Minister owned a lot at Sanctuary Belize. “Although Barrow’s name does not appear on lot lists, he may have rights through another person or entity,” the FTC filing said. Barrow, in responding, said he has never even visited the Sanctuary Bay estate much less own any land there. “Now how do you deal with something like that? You say that somebody said that somebody said that I own a lot. You go and check and I own no lot but you don’t leave it there, you say but maybe somebody might ‘di front fi ah’, how does one deal with that? Absolutely outrageous!” Barrow chided.

Continuing in response to each of the FTC’s numerous claims, Barrow also rebutted an assertion by the agency that the Sanctuary Bay matter received special consideration over a financial issue as high as Cabinet level. According to the Prime Minister, Sanctuary Bay has never been brought up at any Cabinet meeting he has chaired, adding that he has chaired them all with the exception of one. He also picked apart claims that another defendant, Frank Constanzo, communicated with Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber, questioning the implication and asserting Faber’s position that he never met or communicated with anyone regarding Sanctuary Bay.

One glaring inaccuracy Barrow pointed to in the FTC’s report was the apparent mix-up by the agency in identifying one of Sanctuary Bay’s developers named Erwin Contreras, which the FTC identified as Barrow’s colleague and former minister of Economic Development, which it was not. “This one is the worst of all,” he said, continuing dismiss the FTC’s claims. He also dismissed a suggestion from the FTC that the Central Bank should have played a more influential role saying the regulatory body’s mandate does not include real estate matters like the Sanctuary Bay matter, despite the fact that the scam was facilitated by AIBL (now defunct), one of several offshore financial institutions in the country.

“This is not hear say, this da ‘yerisoh’,” Barrow remarked snidely at the FTC’s official court filing. The agency has spent the last few months building a case of fraud on a massive scale, duping unwitting consumers out of millions on millions of dollars and had described AIBL as playing a crucial role in helping Sanctuary Bay carry out its fraudulent operations. It provided testimony, written correspondences and admissions from numerous defendants that officials from the highest levels of the institutions knew that Sanctuary Bay was a scam and still facilitated its business. The bank has already gone out of business in the wake of the scandal, injuring an already fractured offshore banking sector and casting further doubt on Belize’s offshore financial sector in the eyes of international institutions. Barrow said he now hopes this announcement brings the matter to a close and joked that he will be happy if he never has to hear the term FTC again.

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