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Witness stonewalls Senate Inquiry on land transactions for Portico project

GeneralWitness stonewalls Senate Inquiry on land transactions for Portico project

Photo: Sanjay Hotchandani, real estate businessman testifies at Portico Senate Inquiry

BELMOPAN, Wed. May 8, 2024

Appearing as the first witness before the Senate Special Select Committee as it resumed its public hearings today on the Portico Definitive Agreement was real estate businessman, Sanjay Hotchandani. He was a director for 7 companies which sold nine estimated fifty-acre parcels on June 9, 2022 to Portico Enterprise Limited for its Port of Magical Belize project. Lease applications for those lands had been submitted to the Lands Department on October 16, 2020 and those were approved four days later, on October 20, 2020. Title was granted on November 4, 2020, just a week before the November 2020 general elections.

The land totaled 450 acres, but one parcel was purchased from the government for $33,193, while the remaining 8 parcels were purchased from the Government for $5,300 each. The 9 parcels were then sold to Portico for $15,000 each or a total of $135,000. Asked if he was aware why one parcel was purchased at the higher price, Hotchandani responded that on advice of his counsel, Yohhahnseh Cave, he would decline to comment, as the question did not relate to the terms of reference of the Committee. That was the response Hotchandani gave for all the senators’ questions that had to do with how he became aware of the lands sold by the 7 companies, how Portico became aware the companies had those lands, or the transactions carried out for the sale of the lands. That same reason had been provided at previous hearings by witnesses who declined to answer questions and therefore stonewalled the Committee. Notably, at today’s hearing, the Chairperson of the Committee, Senator Janelle Chanona disallowed the legal counsel for any witness from addressing the committee directly as had previously been allowed. The attorneys were merely allowed to provide advice to their client.

For his part, developer David Gegg, the CEO of Portico Enterprise Limited, was not of much assistance either regarding the transactions for the purchase of those lands. He started first by sharing that Portico purchased its main land of 255 acres years ago from a company named East Wind Holdings. That purchase, he says, was handled by real estate company Century 21. He noted that they did require additional land, and that they were approached several years ago by one Bobby Cadle who offered to sell a package of parcels to Portico in the same vicinity of their main land. Gegg says Cadle represented others “and was sort of brokering land owned by others to us.” Asked if he knew who owned the land, Gegg responded, “I’m aware that various people owned them. You know, the situation as I see it is one where a development is created anywhere in Belize and the landgrabbers come out of the wood works because they see opportunity. And I think this is what happened, and they came to me and offered land, and I said, ‘Yes, I would buy it.’”

Gegg pointed out that the lands are swamp lands and, in his estimation, useless except for their cruise port project, as they intend to create a dewatering site there.

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