…prime land leased to shell companies under APNU/AFC flipped for profit
Massive tracts of prime State land which were leased at bargain prices under the former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government are likely to soon be the subject of criminal investigations, as the current Government undertakes a review of several shady land deals in the proximity of the Ogle/Diamond bypass road.
The review of the legality of these transactions is being undertaken by the Attorney General Chambers. In an exclusive interview with this publication, Attorney General Anil Nandlall revealed the methodology used to process these transactions.
He said that the lands were not publicly advertised but instead, deals were brokered and processed through shell companies who then went back and sold the land, using loopholes in the leasing agreement that allowed them to flip the State land for a tidy profit.
Ordinarily, once State land is leased to a developer it cannot be sold without permission but rather, must revert back to the State after a certain period has passed. It seems that the leases were devoid of this provision.
“The clause in the lease, which ought to say that the tenant shall not part with possession or sublet, without the permission of the landlord, has been altered to say that the tenant can do that. So, the lawyer who drafted these leases also seems to be part of that conspiracy,” Nandlall explained.
“Significantly, these lands have now passed into the hands of third parties, exploiting that deliberate omission in the lease… these are commercial lands. They will become of greater value; the bypass road is passing there. These are huge swatches of commercial land, of great value, that has been leased to shell companies and then sold to third parties for millions of dollars,” Nandlall told Inews.
He added that all of this occurred “under the noses” of the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) and Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), two agencies which he noted were instead busy witch-hunting the then PPP Opposition.
Nandlall made it clear that the Criminal Investigative Department (CID) and the Guyana Police Force’s other investigative arms including SOCU are likely to get involved, as money laundering may very well be a component of the investigation.
“A Government has a duty to protect the patrimony of the State. And the State has agencies that are created to protect its own interests. The Guyana Police Force is one of those agencies, whose process will be activated,” he assured.
The Ogle/Diamond bypass road is a massive project conceived as a way of steering traffic away from central Georgetown and the East Bank thoroughfare and easing the massive traffic jams. It is supposed to see some 26 kilometres of road constructed, linking two of the country’s main thoroughfares.
This new road link will also be connected to key communities in Georgetown and along the East Bank of Demerara. These include Diamond, Mocha and Eccles – all on the East Bank – and Aubrey Barker Road in Georgetown. These connections will prove crucial in diverting traffic.
There have long been reports, however, of a land grab in areas associated with the Indian Export/Import (Exim) Bank-funded project. And with the contract for the road likely to be awarded by this year-end, land associated with the project that was secured since 2015 is likely to have jumped in value.
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government has adopted a no-nonsense policy on land that was allocated under the former APNU/AFC Government during the time when they were in caretaker status and not authorised to conduct such large transactions.
As of October 6, 2020, five companies had announced that they surrendered to the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), large tracts of land that were given to them under controversial and non-transparent circumstances by the then APNU/AFC caretaker Administration.
The companies that have since reverted lands to the State are Navigant Builders Incorporated – the developers of Windsor Estates; Cardiology Services Incorporated; the Corum Group; American Marine Services Incorporated and Supergraphics Enterprise.
In all of those cases, the firms had expressed a desire to work with the new Administration to get the necessary approvals needed to pursue their respective developmental goals.