Harlequin Property SVG, owners of the troubled Buccament Bay Resort, whose chairman, Dave Ames, is facing tax evasion and theft charges in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, has filed for insolvency.
The insolvency declaration was filed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where Harlequin Property SVG is registered.
The proceedings could lead to the liquidation of the company and heavy losses for thousands of investors, Financial Adviser, a weekly newspaper in the United Kingdom has reported.
A spokesperson for Harlequin said the insolvency procedure was entered into “to protect the company, its thousands of investors, and its hundreds of employees”.
“It has done so with the knowledge of the Vincentian government on the understanding that Harlequin can and will come out the other side,” the spokespersons said.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said this week that his government is aware of the development.
Financial advisor quoted the Harlequin spokesperson as saying that the insolvency action was taken to stave off a notice to wind up the company, which was due to be lodged on Tuesday (Oct. 4) by UK law firm Waterside Legal on behalf of more than 100 investors.
Investors in the project include 6,000 mainly UK pension investor, who contributed £400 million to the project under the promise of “guaranteed returns” of 10 per cent a year.
Harlequin has faced trouble since early 2013, has been the subject of several warnings from the Financial Conduct Authority, and is mired in a Serious Fraud Office investigation as well as several legal cases.
On the other hand, Harlequin has lodged a US$70 million claim for professional negligence against its former accountants and auditors Wilkins Kennedy — a firm.
In St. Vincent, scores of persons and company claim that Harlequin and/or their Buccament Bay resort owe them money, and workers at the resort have, at times, taken to striking to force the company to pay their wages, which they say they receive irregularly.
Harlequin had signed contracts with around 6,000 investors to build luxury villas in the Caribbean and other exotic locations.
But it completed just a few hundred, leaving most investors without either their capital or any of the “guaranteed returns”.
Vincentian accountant Brian Glasgow of KPMG has been appointed as insolvency practioner of Harlequin Property to put forward a proposal to help rescue the insolvent company, in what is likely to be the last roll of the dice for the firm, Financial Adviser said.
The report continues:
Glasgow’s role will be to try to reach a financial solution that will satisfy Harlequin SVG’s creditors, largely made up of investors and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
If a proposal is not viable or is rejected then Harlequin will enter into formal liquidation.
If that happens, Harlequin’s land and hotel assets — including its flagship Buccament Bay and Merricks resorts – will be sold off and the proceeds distributed among investors, after insolvency costs.
Either way, it is likely to mean serious losses to all Harlequin investors, including those who have provided extra money to Harlequin SVG to complete the purchase on Buccament Bay properties.
Liquidation would also have far reaching consequences across the self-invested personal pension sector, with many of the investments coming via Sipps.
The FSCS joins investors as a creditor because it has paid out around £100m in relation to claims against advisers who sold Harlequin and then, unable to pay compensation for complaints, were forced to shut up shop.
Once the FSCS has paid out a claim it takes over the investors’ rights, including the right to pursue Harlequin to clawback some of the compensation it has paid.
A spokesperson for the FSCS said: “FSCS pursues recoveries when it is cost effect to do so. We do not speculate on any possible future recoveries actions.”
Documents filed with the St. Vincent court name around 130 individual investors, some of whom are couples, some now deceased, with claims against Harlequin ranging from around £24,000 to around £163,000.
Gareth Fatchett, partner at Waterside Legal, said: “Harlequin has taken advantage of the new legislation in SVG to seek creditor protection while an independent solvency practitioner puts together a proposal for creditors to accept or reject.
“If there is no proposal or it is rejected, Harlequin Property SVG Limited will be placed in bankruptcy.
“Our clients await their proposals with great interest.”