Court sides with investors in Antigua resort fight

AP News
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Posted: Dec 05, 2011 7:09 PM
Court sides with investors in Antigua resort fight

A Caribbean appeals court on Monday sided with a group of U.S. investors in a long-standing battle with Antigua and Barbuda over a luxury resort battered by hurricanes.

The Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal on the tiny U.K. dependency of Anguilla ruled that compensation for the prime stretch of coastal property in eastern Antigua should be set at $45.5 million, nearly double a previous valuation.

With interest, the appeals court ruled that Antigua's debt to H.M.B. Holdings Ltd., the U.S. investors of the Half Moon Bay property, stood at $65.7 million on Dec. 1 and will increase by $390,000 each month payment is delayed by the debt-wracked government.

Then-Prime Minister Lester Bird's administration took control of the property in 2002 after renovations weren't completed seven years after a 100-room resort was wrecked by hurricanes Luis and Marilyn. Bird said then the resort would have accounted for 3 percent of the tourism-heavy gross domestic product of Antigua if it had been operating.

H.M.B. Holdings filed a lawsuit against the islands' government with the London-based Privy Council.

In 2007, the Privy Council affirmed the government's right to confiscate the property but ruled that the U.S. investors needed to be fairly compensated for the resort, located on one of Antigua's most beautiful beaches with a mile of white sand protected by a reef.

From her home in Antigua, Natalia Querard, the president of H.M.B. Holdings, said "it was a good day." The resort had been in Querard's family for decades.

But Querard, who is originally from New York, noted that Antigua has yet to pay H.M.B. Holdings Ltd. despite previous rulings.

"The minister of finance says they'll pay us as soon as somebody pays them," Querard said during a phone interview. She added that Antigua intends to rely on a third party to pay off the debt.

Authorities in Antigua and Barbuda didn't return emails and phone calls seeking comment.

Querard said Bird's government confiscated the Half Moon Bay property to pass onto disgraced Texas financier R. Allen Stanford, whose business empire was once based in Antigua and Barbuda.

Several years ago, Stanford was one of the region's most prominent businessmen and Antigua's largest private employer. In 2009, he was accused of bilking investors out of $7 billion, and faces several federal charges including mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. He is jailed in the U.S.

The Half Moon Bay resort had been one of the top hotels on Antigua, attracting upscale tourists and celebrities such as pop star Elton John. The hotel is now derelict, occupied by stray cats.