IN Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we discussed the excuse given for the sale of our passports under the Citizenship by Investment Programme as being that it was the new way to attract Foreign Direct Investment, indicating that this premise was false and also indicating the type of developer that this scheme was attracting. We turn our attention in this Part to the Boka Group, and to their portfolio of projects.
Established in the Bahamas in 2005, the company was co-founded by Mr. John Kennedy and Mr. John James according to the Boka Group website. On that website Mr. Kennedy is listed as the Group CEO, with Mr. James listed as the group Chairman. Mr. James’s Linkedin profile however indicates that he is the company’s Managing Director – Group Strategy, Business Development & Investment Advisor.
The Boka website describes their approach as one that advises on investments in touristic and residential property, and in March 2014 Boka Estates Ltd. purchased the “Mahaut Estate and Bellevedere Plantation” in St. Lucia.
Their website lists the Group’s projects under two headings, that of “Fund”, the other being “Location”. A click on the heading “Fund” takes you to the Boka Fund which lists ‘B’ Class Shares, and a click on that takes you to a five line description of a closed project consisting of seven mainly residential and touristic properties in Montenegro. There is no description of the individual properties, nor any description of the role that the ‘Fund’ had in either their development or sale.
A visit to the ‘Location’ tab on the website finds three locations listed for the Group’s projects, namely Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe. Clicking on the Africa location indicates a project in Victoria Harbour, Seychelles. The public record indicates that the Boka Fund had engaged an architectural firm to prepare a conceptual master plan study for the site, and that firm’s website indicates that this assignment was completed.
The Boka Fund uses the architectural image of that master plan on the Group’s website but indicates that the project is now closed. Although the website indicates that the project was a joint venture, there is no indication of who the joint venture partner was, nor is there any indication of the source of finance for production of that master plan. The listing of the project as being closed on the Group’s website however does not mean that it has been constructed, as a quick check with Google Earth confirms that it has not. There is no further information available on this development, neither are there any other projects listed for Africa on the website.
The Caribbean tab under ‘Location’ takes you to what we know is still a proposal, the “Mahaut Estate and Bellevedere Plantation”, while the Europe tab under the same heading does not function. The projects which the Group is supposed to have undertaken in Europe can however be found under the ‘Portfolio’ heading of the website’s home page.
The “Sea Breeze – Kavac” development listed in the Portfolio section is described as 25 high-end luxury detached villas, the site for which was purchased in March 2012. Construction of these villas did commence, with the latest progress update carrying the Boka Group logo on the Sea Breeze website being for Week 76 of construction, in September 2015. At that time progress was reported on work being undertaken on the construction of Villa 5, (of 25 proposed Villas), with no further progress reports being available on that Sea Breeze website.
While the Boka Ski and Adriatic Fair projects are listed in the Boka Group’s portfolio, a visit to the Boka Ski website indicates that the proposed luxury residences and condominiums will be offered, but there is no indication that construction has commenced. The website for the Adriatic Fair project no longer functions, while the Boka Group indicates on its website that it introduced an alternative investment group for the development of that project although it continues to list it.
The Porto Montenegro project listed in their portfolio is a marina development project undertaken by a company called Adriatic Marinas, with Mr. Kennedy of the Boka Group claiming to be a Founder, Director of this company. No public information is available on this company, and neither Mr. Kennedy’s nor the Boka Group’s association with Adriatic Marinas can be established. According to a June 02, 2014 New York Times article however, Adriatic Marinas was developing the Porto Montenegro project, with the article listing the main shareholders of the development company. Neither the Boka Group nor John Kennedy was mentioned in that article.
These are the projects with which the Boka Group claims to be associated, but, with the exception of the Sea Breeze project which is apparently stalled, it has not been possible to identify the Boka Group as functioning in the role of a developer. The Group’s website also indicates that they may have some involvement in “growth capital” and “hedge funds” but no information on this is available either.
Possibly the “due diligence” checks by Invest St. Lucia or St. Lucia’s CIP office have confirmed the Boka Group’s status and capacity, but neither office has indicated this, and judging from their recent endorsement of Range Developments, we can have little confidence in their pronouncements whenever these are made. Meanwhile, the Boka Group is busily engaged with being a good corporate citizen in St. Lucia, participating in school feeding programmes, carnival, and even buying a TV for the government.
You might recall Prime Minister Gonsalves’ description of these CIP schemes as being a “race to the bottom”, and you might now begin to understand what he may have meant, and understand as well our reference to us as giving the “Third World” a bad name. We are inviting persons and groups to our shores who have no demonstrable track record of development, and others whose record is questionable, and turning them into “world class” developers with these citizenship by investment schemes. All that is required apparently is that those persons have some scheme in mind which will allow the government to classify that scheme as an approved CIP development. These schemes however are the only project development process in the world that guarantees that the developer will be successful, as no matter what the project may cost he simply has to wait until the required number of passports are sold to collect his money.
And yet, there is one developer in the Caribbean whom we love to hate but who seems to be consistently investing in hotel plant in these islands. And whether it is in the long standing investments in St. Lucia or the more recent ones in Grenada, or Barbados, or even in Antigua, where, despite that government’s allegations with respect to the hotel’s handling of the sales taxes they are still keen for the company to invest, Sandals has made an indelible mark on our tourism development. Now we hear that Sandals Resorts is planning to invest in a 750-room luxury hotel in Tobago.
Some might argue that Sandals is so deeply invested in the region that they have no alternative but to continue to invest, while others might suggest that it is not such a good idea for one company to be so prominent in a single sector. But if Butch can see the promise, surely others can too. This seems to be what is happening in Barbados with the new Hyatt Hotel in Bridgetown, now approved for construction. Nobody there is suggesting the sale of Barbadian identity to finance development, even though economic times are difficult. Barbadians are a proud people, and we should take notice of that.
To close our discussion, in Part 4, the final part of this series, we have a look at one of the principals of the Boka Group who is now an advocate for the CIP.