Headline — 13 July 2019 — by Rowland A. Parks
Sanctuary Belize fraud – FTC fingers Barrow-led government in bankruptcy court

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 11, 2019– The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed objections to the transferral of the Atlantic International Bank Limited (AIBL) bankruptcy case from the US jurisdiction to the Belize jurisdiction.

In its 50-page written submission filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida, the FTC highlighted the involvement of the Barrow-led government in the facilitation of the Sanctuary Belize Enterprise (SBE), the biggest real estate scam case in the FTC’s history.

The FTC’s objection, in effect, labels as complicit the authorities in Belize —  from Prime Minister Dean Barrow, to his law partner, Rodwell Williams, S.C., to various Cabinet ministers, to a UDP senator and the Central Bank of Belize, which the FCC claims had advance knowledge of the SBE scam, but did nothing to stop it. The SBE scam has resulted in the loss of an estimated 100 million dollars to United States citizens who invested in SBE, it said.

   Yesterday at a press conference, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, apart from defending himself and his government against the onslaught of the FTC’s allegations, said that a settlement between AIBL and the FTC has been reached, but the terms of the settlement could not be made public yet.

The inevitable question that arises from the Prime Minister’s assertion is, what is the Government of Belize doing talking about a settlement in a private investment gone wrong?

Barrow’s press conference was called “to set the record straight on the Sanctuary Bay situation,” and in his trademark eloquence he forcefully denied many of the FTC’s documented allegations, but was extremely careful not to dismiss the FTC’s claims as outright lies.

Not only did the FTC submission paint a disturbing picture of Cabinet ministers’ many contacts with SBE principals and operatives in Belize, but it also lambasted the Belize Central Bank for knowing about the fraud but doing nothing about it.

“Most of its depositors are American, most of its borrowers are apparently in the United States, and it can only do business in U.S. dollars. Accessing U.S. consumers interested in Sanctuary Belize were so important to Petitioner that it (and the Central Bank) ignored clear evidence that Sanctuary Belize was a fraud,” said the FTC document.

In the “Background” to the issue, the FTC submission said petitioner (ABIL) played a critical role in the Sanctuary Belize scam, and that the petitioner is a US-focused institution. Most of the petitioner’s clients are US citizens; none are Belizeans.

“This Chapter 15 proceeding is unusual because a foreign government (Belize) authorized Petitioner to do business exclusively outside that foreign jurisdiction. Specifically, as an ‘international bank’ under Belizean law, Petitioner can offer banking services ‘exclusively to non-residents’ of Belize,” the FTC said.

The FTC submission further stated, “Sometimes termed a ‘jurisdiction of convenience’, Belize is widely known as a haven for illicit financial transactions. For instance, a State Department report submitted to Congress earlier this year identified Belize as a ‘major money laundering jurisdiction.’”

The FTC submission said “the felon Andris Pukke and both Belizean and U.S. associates perpetrated the Sanctuary Belize Fraud.”

Pukke and Peter Baker were ordered by the court to turn over what the FTC document described as a Manhattan-sized development parcel of land in southern Belize that was known by various names, including Sanctuary Belize.

Pukke and Baker had to be civilly imprisoned before they eventually complied with the court order to turn over Sanctuary Belize to the court-appointed AmeriDebt, “but by secretly controlling Sittee River Wildlife Reserve (SRWR), they covertly maintained their control”, stated the FTC.

Thus the two US scammers continued the sale of lots in Belize and sold 1,400 lots for hundreds of thousands of US dollars each.

One of the questions that were asked at the Prime Minister’s press conference was whether or not the necessary stamp duties were paid on the sale of the lands. Prime Minister Barrow said he did not know whether the stamp duties were paid on the sale of these lands. The stamp duty would have amounted to millions of dollars, so it is puzzling that the Prime Minister, who is the Minister of Finance, did not, or does not know whether such payments were made.

Although Prime Minister Dean Barrow has denied meeting with the developers of Sanctuary Belize, the FTC insisted in its submission that the developers communicated with some of his ministers.

“Among other examples, SBE defendant Frank Costanzo communicated with Patrick Faber, the Deputy Prime Minister, Glenford Ysaguirre, the former Governor of the Central Bank of Belize (Central Bank), and Jose Heredia, the Minister of Tourism,” the FTC said.

Barrow also denied that the SBE matter was discussed at any of the Cabinet meetings that he chaired. The FTC said, however, “In one 2016 email, John Usher (one of the shareholders of SBE) reported to Pukke that he ‘met with four ministers last week’ who promised that a financial issue facing the development ‘would be taken up at the Cabinet level.’”

The FTC said that Senator Aldo Salazar facilitated the fraud by assisting the developers to take away lots from Americans.

“Aldo Salazar is an influential Belizean senator who belongs to the Prime Minister’s political party (the United Democratic Party). Senator Salazar is also an attorney who represented both AIBL and SBE. Significantly, Senator Salazar accompanied AIBL CEO Pelayo and bank manager Charles Ellis to Pukke’s California telemarketing headquarters,” said the FTC.

Senator Salazar reportedly was pulled aside at an airport in Texas when he was returning to Belize from an official trip to Taiwan. Salazar denied that he was questioned by US authorities over the SBE.

The FTC said, “In fact, Salazar was in the room when Pelayo and Ellis taught SBE telemarketers how to sell AIBL’s services to Americans. Salazar also provided legal advice to a Coldwell banker franchise SBE established to help further the fraud.”

Senator Salazar sent demand letters to consumers when they stopped paying SBE and ignored their complaints, the FTC pointed out.

“Glenford Ysaguirre (then the Governor of the Central Bank) wrote to Joy Grant (then the head of an anti-financial crimes authority, who has since replaced Ysaguirre as the Central Bank’s Governor), with respect to the Sanctuary Belize development. Ysaguirre warned Grant about.  evidence of fraud and money laundering with this project.

“Yet, neither the Central Bank nor any other Belizean authority did anything about the ‘massive fraud,’ which continued unabated until two years later, when the District Court in Maryland enjoined it at the FTC’s request,” said the FTC submission.

The FTC’s submission also stated that the State Department has described “Belmopan as being a high-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.”

“Pukke had threatened people who crossed him”, the FTC said, “and the prominent attorney for IOSB (Independent Owners of Sanctuary Belize) litigating against SBE in Belize was fatally shot in his home during pretrial proceedings (local authorities claimed it was a suicide).”

The FTC argued that “Substantial doubt exists regarding whether the FTC would receive fair treatment in Belize, because the Belizean government supported the fraud.”

“For several reasons, ‘substantial doubt’ exists regarding whether Belizean authorities would fairly adjudicate claims the FTC asserts. First, SBE exerts substantial influence throughout the Belizean government.

“In addition to the Prime Minister’s involvement (both directly and through his law firm), SBE also employed two Belizean legislators (Salazar and Contreras), and miraculously obtained a judicial defamation finding that Pukke is purportedly not involved with Sanctuary Belize,” said the FTC.

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Deshawn Swasey

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