Paradise Found, a flagship project of the Gaston Browne Administration’s first term in office, has gone into liquidation.
The official Gazette of December 9, 2021 reports that the company went into voluntary liquidation since September 16, as agreed by its single shareholder and signed to by its sole director, Thomas Gallagher.
The controversial project – which saw a wharf of concessions being granted to its investors – was intended to bring “development” to Barbuda – and eventually imperiled the Barbuda Land Act, 2007.
According to an online article by rightsandresources.org, the Paradise Found (Project) Act, 2015 “[exempted] the project from time limits on development … payments of tax on corporate income, dividends, stamp duty, property – or any need for the consent of the people of Barbuda, or indeed its Council.”
With a lease of 198 years’ duration, the Paradise Found project was even assured of ownership of the land whenever the island’s communal system is converted to freehold.
However, the much-touted development, valued at $250 million, ran into trouble early when Australian investor James Packer withdrew on account of personal challenges.
And despite his celebrity, co-developer Robert De Niro appeared unable to attract other investors to realize the project.
The development stalled – leading locals to re-brand it “Paradise Lost” – but Prime Minister Gaston Browne continued to flog it among his major development plans.
In fact, as recently as last week, Browne said that he and DeNiro were in discussions about an imminent start since general elections are close. But he stopped short of identifying what, exactly, he expected to be started.
This seemingly deliberate omission has led several residents to describe the Prime Minister in unflattering terms, with persons alleging he is “a deceiver” and “nothing but a fraud,” and likening the situation to the “sneaky giveaway to Global Ports.”
“…Hearing that this grand Paradise scheme is under liquidation just serves to confirm what we Barbudans have always known,” says community activist John Mussington.
“These grand schemes are just smoke and mirrors hiding speculative real-estate deals. Leases obtained for peppercorn prices in exchange for grandiose promises are then flipped for millions of dollars,” the Barbudan says.
“This has been going on for years and has now escalated under this present administration: The same old con games [of] putting millions of dollars in individuals’ pockets from Barbuda sand and leased land,” says Mussington bitterly. “This has to stop.”
Meanwhile, attorney Andrea Smithen-Henry has been appointed liquidator and will steer the company through the process of winding-up.
At this point, the disposition of the Paradise Found property has not been confirmed. But there are claims that it has been acquired by the Peace Love and Happiness (PLH) developers.
In the meantime, Trevor Walker, the island’s parliamentary representative, tells our Newsroom he was only recently made aware of the situation and is checking it out.