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UK investors seek $200m settlement

THA 'acted unfairly' to block land bid

By Anna Ramdass anna.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

The State is being threatened with international arbitration proceedings for a $200 million claim from investors in the United Kingdom (UK) who claim they lost millions because of unfair treatment from the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).

Attorney Donna Prowell, under the instructions of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, wrote to THA Chief Secretary Orville London yesterday, requesting he meet with her between today and Monday to discuss the matter as UK solicitors will be flying into Trinidad next Monday to seek settlement and resolution on the issue.

The Express obtained a copy of the letter Prowell sent to London, which detailed the specifics of the claim.

According to the letter, the UK investor claimed that acting through two companies—one registered in Trinidad and another in St Lucia—they entered into agreements for a project involving the acquisition of the 184-acre Culloden Estate where a hotel and resort were to be constructed.

The investor companies made applications to the relevant State agencies for the necessary licences and approvals.

Among these was an application for the grant of a licence required under the provisions of the Financial Investment Act for the acquisition of the Culloden Estate.

The THA, stated the letter, has the responsibility for processing and approving applications for the licence.

According to the letter, the investor companies made the application in February 2007 through attorneys Hamel Smith & Company, but there was no response from the THA despite several meetings and encouragement given by THA officials, including London.

The letter stated the investors bid to acquire the Culloden Estate has floundered, and the investors have been put to substantial loss and damage.

"The investors argued that their bid to acquire the Culloden Estate was frustrated by the THA that has since disclosed a private interest in the acquisition of the said Estate for its own purposes," stated the letter.

It added that to support their argument, the investors alleged the THA paid a 10 per cent deposit for the acquisition of the Culloden Estate—the closure of the sale has been delayed pending High Court action.

The letter stated the investors believe the non-response was deliberate, and they may be "victims of a policy to block the acquisition of Tobago land by foreigners".

The investors claim the THA's action was a breach of the State of its material obligation under provisions of the Bilateral Investment Treaty that it executed with the UK.

"They contend they have been treated unfairly, unlawfully and discriminated against. They seek compensation for the losses incurred in the aborted transaction that they state to estimate conservatively in the region of US$30 million," stated the letter.

"The investors threaten unless this matter is resolved expeditiously and their claim is settled, they intend to initiate international arbitration proceedings against the State pursuant to the BIT," the letter added.

Prowell posed a number of questions to London and also requested documents pertaining to the matter to aid the State in its response to the investors.

Efforts to contact London yesterday proved futile.

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