In August 2017, Range Developments, run by Mohammed Asaria, signed an agreement with the government of St Lucia to construct a Ritz-Carlton resort in Black Bay, in the south of the island, financed by the country’s citizenship by investment program (CIP).
According to opposition St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) spokesman for the CIP and investment matters, Ernest Hilaire, the Ritz-Carlton project in Black Bay was the first hotel project signed by the outgoing SLP government in 2016, using the CIP real estate option.
Hilaire said in a Facebook posting that, having assumed the leadership of the country, current Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, in discussions with Range Developments, announced that he had agreed to a new approach for the financing of the hotel using CIP funds. He would use money from donations, not real estate investment, to lend to Range to finance the construction of the resort, something that was never brought to or approved by parliament.
Just one month later, in September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Dominica, where Range was constructing a Kempinski resort at Cabrits (also financed by that island’s CIP), bringing an indefinite halt to work there.
A few days after the Hurricane Maria hit Dominica, Asaria of Range arranged for Chastanet to visit Dubai to meet a significant number of immigration consultants in an effort to persuade them to switch their focus on the Dominica CIP to St Lucia, in order to jump start the CIP there and thus the new Ritz Carlton development.
Range had proposed to Chastanet to lobby the various consultants to switch their clients (even those in process) to St Lucia by claiming that Dominica was physically annihilated. In return, Range would receive a 10% commission for facilitating the same.
However, those efforts were fruitless as the agents resisted the notion of dismissing Dominica. Subsequently, Dominica made a strong push to retain its market share in the CIP market.
The essence of the deal with Chastanet stipulated that Range would promote the St Lucia CIP program, where generated cases would be marked as Range introduced cases to qualify for the commission and the donation revenues would be kept in escrow to be loaned to Range in the future for the development of the Ritz Carlton hotel.
Meanwhile, Henley & Partners (chairman Christian Kalin) and others were actively promoting St Lucia. Henley’s managing partner in St Lucia was and is Mark Maragh, a local attorney at law, who also represents Chastanet personally in various legal matters.
Maragh, who seems to be completely oblivious to the meaning of conflict of interest, also jumped into bed with Range and conspired to record all of Henley’s CIP cases as if they were generated by Range so that the 10% commission would be payable. It would defy belief that Maragh did not personally benefit from this scheme that amounts to embezzlement of government money.
According to Hilaire, Range Developments asked to start drawing down on the CIP financing but was told there was no money available.
However, at some point, Chastanet had discovered what was going on and moved to put a stop to it, at the same time, for reasons best known to himself, protecting Maragh (his personal attorney) by accepting blame for the subsequent delay in launching and eventual abandonment of the Ritz Carlton project.