Clifton Bacchus, the owner of Sleepin and a prospective investor in the casino business, has hit back against reports that the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) has him under investigation for money laundering.
Bacchus denied that he has ever been approached by SOCU. He stated that the reports, which first appeared in the state media on Tuesday, were deliberately sensationalized and suggested that someone was carrying out a vendetta against him.
“I read with absolute shock the blazing and bold headlines. There was a special effort and a deliberate intent to sensationalise that story. From the article, I learnt for the first time that I, my company and a number of associates are subjects of a money laundering investigation being conducted by SOCU,” the businessman said in a statement responding to the reports.
“SOCU has never made any contact with me, to date, whatsoever. As far as I am aware, SOCU has not made contact with any person close to me in relation to the Sleepin International Hotel and Casino Inc.”
Sleepin’s Church Street branch has been making preparations for quite some time to set up a casino. Under the law, only three casinos are allowed in each Region in Guyana. For Region Four, Ramada Princess has one, while another has been earmarked for the Marriott Hotel at Kingston. Sleepin has sought the third one.
With a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), made with the previous government being cast aside by the coalition and after being rejected initially by the Gaming Authority, Bacchus had reapplied for a licence.
Noting that this application is currently being processed, Bacchus asserted that additional financial information was requested and are being provided to go along with his application to the Gaming Authority.
Bacchus was adamant that the documents he submitted to the Gaming Authority establish the source of his capital financing. According to the businessman, his sources of finance include loans from local commercial banks and an overseas investor, which were secured by mortgages.
“These documents are all filed as of record with the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority. Copies have been submitted to the Gaming Authority. If SOCU requires them, I will gladly supply copies to them. However, as I indicated, they have never made contact.”
According to the businessman, the situation is causing irreparable damage to the perception of Guyana being open to investment. Bacchus expressed the hope that this was not an official position of a government being uninterested in job creation but interested in publicly humiliating investors.
“After all,” he said. “Which investor will want to invest in a country in which they will be exposed to this level of embarrassment, trauma and reputational damage?”
In the report, SOCU head Sydney James was quoted as saying that Bacchus and “a number of associates” have been under investigation since July 2016. He had also related that information for financial and other assets was sourced through court orders. In addition, he had said that statutory agencies were approached for “pertinent” information.
This was contained in a letter he wrote in response to a letter from head of the Gaming Authority, Roysdale Forde. It was reported that in the letter, Forde had requested information on the businessman, as it was reviewing his application for a licence.
It is understood that in order to qualify for a license, casino operators must prove that they are financially sound. The failure to provide certain documents had been used by the authority as justification for the initial refusal. Bacchus has always maintained that his enterprise is solely funded by above board sources.
SOCU has faced much criticism from the political opposition that it has not operated in an objective manner, but has rather gone after persons due to political affiliations with the previous administration.