Digicel’s owner believed to be linked to property development in Canouan

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NASSAU, BAHAMAS (SEPT 22, 2016) -Irish businessman Denis O’Brien, who owns Digicel among several other companies, is linked to the development of a controversial property on the Grenadine island of Canouan, where one of his companies is seeking to develop an exclusive resort amidst some controversy.

The corporate registry in the Bahamas, which is normally difficult to access but the contents of which have been published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, also shows associates of O’Brien acting as directors of six companies in the Caribbean tax haven.

The Bahamas are a well-known tax haven and there is nothing illegal about being connected with a company from that jurisdiction.

There are legitimate reasons, such as privacy and tax planning, for having a company registered there.

Among the companies registered there is Fortress Property (SVG) Ltd.

The files show that in May of last year two persons who are directors of many other companies operated by O’Brien, Denise Russell and Ann Marie Foley O’Brien, both with addresses in Dublin, became directors of Fortress Property (SVG) Ltd.

Russell is a manager with O’Brien’s Irish investment vehicle, Island Capital, while Foley O’Brien is a consultant who acts as a director of a number of O’Brien companies.

Requests for a comment from O’Brien’s spokesman about his exact involvement, have gone unanswered.

The two businesswomen replaced Swiss-Italian banker Antonio Saladino and Achille Pastor-Ris, chief executive of a company called Canouan Resorts Development Ltd.

The owners of the companies and their activities are not disclosed but both Saladino and Pastor-Ris are involved with the development of the very exclusive resort on Canouan.

Also associated with the project was businessman Dermot Desmond, considered one of the richest men in Ireland, where O’Brien hails from also.

Desmond is also an investor in the resort but he and Saladino fell out last year.

Reports say Saladino is continuing with the development of the exclusive Pink Sands Club, while Desmond is continuing with the development of a marina on the island.

The Pink Sands Club is to open on October 10th. The 26-suite, six-villa hotel “will set a new benchmark for a Caribbean archipelago already synonymous with ultra-exclusive hideaways”, according to a spokeswoman for the hotel.

The launch of the hotel completes phase one of a three-year project costing in excess of $120 million, she said.

The overall project includes the development of a golf course, villas, a marina, and an extended runway to accommodate private jets.

A Bahamas company, Canouan Resorts Development (CRD Ltd), has signed a 99-year lease agreement with the St Vincent and the Grenadines government in 1990 for the development of Canouan as an exclusive holiday resort.

At one stage Saladino was working in partnership with the US presidential candidate, Donald Trump, on the development of the resort, but despite grandiose plans and significant investment, the project was not a success.

Desmond, who part-owns the Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados with, among others, JP McManus and John Magnier, teamed up with Saladino in 2010 on a 50-50 basis.

Not only will yachts, catamarans and powerboats be available for guests at the Pink Sands, but a private jet associated with the hotel can be chartered “at any time” and “comes included” for guests staying for ten nights or more in certain suites or penthouses, the spokeswoman said. Rates at the hotel start at $1,400 a night for a one-bedroom suite.

The hotel is adjacent to the 1,200-acre Canouan estate, which is accessible to all guests and features a collection of private villas and residences, restaurants, golf club, and a real estate sales centre.

“Each villa has between two and six bedrooms, kitchen facilities, floor-to-ceiling windows opening out on to generous sun terraces, and their own infinity-edge swimming pools.”

According to the spokeswoman, it is also possible to buy villas on the estate and to buy plots of land which can be built on working with an established designed team.

According to Grenadinevillas. com, a four-bedroom villa on Canouan, beside the beach and with a pool, can be rented for $49,700 a week in high season, and $44,177 during low season.

Fortress Property was formerly owned by an investment fund, Fortress Mutual Fund Ltd, which used it when buying a lot on Canouan in 2008 for $6.6 million as part of its overall investment portfolio.

It sold the company in 2011 and it is not known who the purchaser was.

O’Brien’s links with the Bahamas go back further than last year, the registry files indicate.

Russell became a director of Acacia Administration Inc in December 2011, giving as her address the address on Grand Canal Quay, Dublin, used by O’Brien’s Irish companies. Saladino and Pastor-Ris resigned on the same day. The business of the company is not known.

In March 2012, Foley O’Brien replaced Pastor-Ris as director of Lagoon Two Ltd. Russell, using the Grand Canal Quay address, became secretary of the company. The business of Lagoon Two is not disclosed.

However, a number of companies, Lagoon One to Lagoon Six, all associated with Pastor-Ris, are listed in the Bahamas registry. One, Lagoon Three Ltd, used the services of the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, and the leaked files from that firm (the Panama Papers) show that the company owned “villa number three in the Pinks Sands Club” which it held for the sole use of the unidentified ultimate beneficial owner and his family.

Foley O’Brien and Russell also became directors of Struron (Bahamas) Ltd in February 2012, the date the company was incorporated, the registry files show. The business of the company is not known.

His Caribbean and Pacific telecoms company, Digicel, is incorporated in Bermuda and based in Jamaica and O’Brien is a frequent traveller to the Caribbean for business reasons.

Canouan Resorts Development Ltd (CRD) owns approximately 1,200 acres of the 1,800- acre Caribbean island and the turning of the bulk of the island into a private development has not been without its political as well as its commercial difficulties.

According to Terry Bynoe, chairman of the Canouan Island Development Council, there are approximately 1,500 people living on the island and there have been issues in more recent times in relation to access to the beach for locals.

While use of the beach is not prohibited, there are concerns about right of access along routes that traditionally have been open to the public, but which more recently have become gated.

A picnic was held on the beach earlier this year, with the people reaching the beach by boat, in order to make a point about access.

Bynoe said the difficulty is not with Desmond and the marina development, with which people have good relations, but rather with the operators of the hotel.

The picnic was organised after a private dining area was built near the beach, believed by locals to be owned by investor Andrea Pignataro. The construction of the private area produced renewed concerns about access to the beach, according to Bynoe.

London-based Pignataro is founder of a Dublin-registered entity called Ion Investment Group.

Earlier this year the Carlyle Group, a US multinational asset manager with $176 billion in assets, paid approximately $400 million to buy a minority stake in Ion.

Ion was described at the time as a “trading technology specialist” that makes more than €300 million in profits annually before interest payments and other cost factors are taken into account.

Filings in the corporate registry in Dublin show that a number of companies associated with Pignataro and with the word Canouan in their name, including Canouan Resort Services Ltd, were incorporated in March of this year.

A spokesman for Ion said it had no links with investments in the Caribbean resort.

Requests for comments from O’Brien, Desmond, Saladino, Pastor-Ris, and Pignataro met with no response.

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