Last updated: 01:09 PM ET, Tue February 02 2016

Sandals Officials Acknowledge Payments To Indicted Former Turks & Caicos Premier

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | February 02, 2016

Sandals Officials Acknowledge Payments To Indicted Former Turks & Caicos Premier

PHOTO: SRI officials acknowledged payments to Turks & Caicos official on trial for corruption. At Sandals’ Beaches Turks & Caicos property. (Photo by Brian Major)

High-ranking officials at Sandals Resorts International (SRI) secretly paid $1.65 million to a real estate company controlled by Michael Misick, the former Turks & Caicos premier, in 2006. The payments emerged this week in the Providenciales criminal trial of Misick and other former top Turks & Caicos officials, who are charged in connection with land transactions that allegedly defrauded the Turks & Caicos government of millions of dollars.

In his opening statements, prosecutor Andrew Mitchell said payments were made to Misick by “one or more” Sandals-related companies. “It is a fact that those payments were made,” said Sandals officials in a statement late Wednesday. The statement adds that the payments were made “without the knowledge or consent of the principals of Sandals.”

The matter came to light after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of Miscik led to “internal investigations by Sandals to determine the source of the payment and the responsible parties,” say company officials in the statement.

Sandals’ investigation and forensic audit “revealed that approximately 10 years ago, $1,650,000 had been paid to Prestigious Properties Limited, a real estate company in which Michael Misick, Phillip Misick and Washington Misick were the shareholders.  All payments were made without the knowledge or consent of the principals of Sandals. “

Miscik, who served as the Turks & Caicos’ premier from August 2006 to March 2009 and was also the country’s tourism minister during that period, was first accused in a 2008 British Parliament report with directing several schemes to profit from the illegal sale of lands owned by the British Overseas Territory.

The resulting scandal led the British government to suspend the territory’s self-government in late 2009. One year later a Turks & Caicos commission of inquiry recommended criminal investigation of the Turks & Caicos premier.

Miscik resigned his office and eventually fled the Turks & Caicos before being arrested in Brazil in 2012 and returned to the Turks & Caicos in January 2014. He was briefly held in prison in Grand Turk before being released on bail ahead of his trial. The former premier now faces charges of conspiracy to receive bribes, conspiracy to defraud the government and money laundering.

Sandals’ investigation tracked the “unauthorized” payments to “a senior executive and then-treasurer” of the company, culminating in that official’s termination and Sandals filing a lawsuit against him in the Bahamas to recover the unauthorized payments.

Sandals officials said the executive had done “substantial” damage done to the company.  In 2012 the company paid a fine of $12 million imposed by the Turks & Caicos authorities due to the executive’s actions. 

Sandals’ statement notes that company officials “are not on trial” in the Turks & Caicos and the Department of Justice in fact described Sandals officials as having cooperated with U.S. authorities “to a degree acknowledged to be both extraordinary and unique” during their investigation.

Ironically despite the government’s dysfunction, Turks & Caicos tourism has surged in recent years. The country hosted 368,164 overnight, land-based visitor arrivals in 2014, the last year for which full-year data is available, a 40.6 percent increase over 2014.

The same year the country welcomed 971,838 cruise-ship passengers, a 24. 8 percent increase over 2013. In December 2014 the country completed a $10 million expansion of Providenciales International Airport. 

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