Sleepin businessman pleads ignorance to SOCU probe
As the Guyana Gaming Authority prepares for a site visit at the Sleepin Hotel and Casino tomorrow, the hotelier Clifton Bacchus is denying reports that his business is under investigation by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) for money laundering.
State newspaper, the Guyana Chronicle reported on Tuesday that the local business has been under investigation since July 2016 and that the Gaming Authority is taking this into consideration before making a determination on whether to grant the businessman a casino licence which he had applied for the second time in March 2017.
Responding to the article in a statement, Bacchus said SOCU never made any contact with him regarding the probe.
“From the article, I learnt for the first time that I, my company ‘and a number of associates are subjects of a money laundering investigation being conducted by SOCU which is ongoing since July 2016’,” he stated.
Bacchus also claimed that, to his knowledge, SOCU has not made contact with any person close to him in relation to the Sleepin International Hotel and Casino Inc. The businessman said it seems as though someone in government is executing an “agenda of malice and vendetta” against him and his operation.
“What this person or persons do not understand is that they are doing untold damage to the image of this country as an investment destination. After all, which investor will want to invest in a country in which they will be exposed to this level of embarrassment, trauma and reputational damage?” he expressed.
After investing approximately US$20M on the wings of optimism, Bacchus has been waiting for his casino licence. Bacchus had reapplied for approval to operate the after he was denied permission last year.
The applications for casino licences were denied because he failed to provide proof of “its financial soundness and capability,” which was critical for approval. The businessman, who has been in the hotel industry for over 15 years, had told reporters during a tour of the ‘Carnival Casino’ back in March that he was positive he would get through with his licences in a matter of weeks.
Bacchus said he submitted documents to the Gaming Authority that establish the source of his financing including loans from local commercial banks secured by mortgages, along with monies from an overseas investor secured by loan agreements and mortgages.
“These documents are all filed as of record with the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority. Copies have been submitted to the Gaming Authority,” he stated, noting that he is prepared to submit these documents to SOCU is the agency so desires.
Bacchus had also noted that he is in possession of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between himself and the Government of Guyana, signed under the Donald Ramotar administration in 2014. According to the businessman, the MoU guarantees him a licence to operate a casino once he is able to complete construction in line with several specifications.
Meanwhile, according to the Guyana Chronicle report, the Head of the Gaming Authority, Roysdale Forde on July 10, 2017 wrote Head of SOCU, Sydney James, requesting information regarding Bacchus. The article reported that the Gaming Authority is desirous of establishing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to share information and documents with SOCU.
Over 300 Guyanese were trained to operate the casino but since its opening is in limbo, those persons were forced to seek alternative employment. According to Bacchus, the staff were being paid a stipend pending the inauguration of the casino but since too much time has elapsed he had to cut off the remuneration.