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Hong Kong company aborts plans to run Marriott’s casino

Marriott Hotel, Kingston, Georgetown (GINA photo)

The Marriott-branded hotel, largely funded by the Guyana government due to pending High Court cases, is set to open next month but a Hong Kong-headquartered company has bowed out from running the casino because it’s too risk to do so under weak anti-money laundering legislation.

Chairman of the National Industrial Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL)- the  holding company for state assets including properties and shares-, Winston Brassington told reporters that Marriott which has an internationally proven track record of running casinos would be doing so at its branded hotel in Guyana although the country’s Anti Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act  is yet to be amended.

He explained that the principals of ACE Square Investments are directors of publicly traded companies in Hong Kong who could not take the risk of Guyana being blacklisted by the global financial crimes watchdog, Financial Action Task Force (FATF). “They are coming in to operate the casino and they have international reputations that they are concerned about and when they looked at what was developing after we made that public announcement in May of last year, they said we are very concerned, we are very scared for our reputation because we are coming into this part of the world in the casino business and we don’t want to be tainted by seeing to operate a casino in an AML-deficient jurisdiction,” he said

For Marriott, the NICIL boss said that hotel operator has a much more robust and established track record. “I think few people would say that Marriott, given their global reputation, would engage or be associated with something unless they had the best practices,” he said.

“We are relying on Marriott’s global track record, their international credibility and integrity and because of their experience in this line of business in this part of the world and that sort of reputation, we have less of a risk or they are satisfied that they can manage that risk,” he added.

Brassington said Marriott would operate the casino to international best practices and recognized gaming rules

He further explained that neither Marriott nor ACE Square Investments own the casino but would be operating that entertainment complex and the hotel and their revenues and expenditures would be recorded in the books of Atlantic Hotel Inc (AHI).

FATF has given Guyana additional time to pass the amendments which have been the subject of prolonged controversy between the government and the opposition.

The more than US$50 million dollar hotel is tentatively set to open its doors on April 17, 2015.

With initial occupancy expected to be in the low 40s, Brassington said planners hope that international conferences, additional airlines like COPA and InselAir and other activities would help boost the number of persons who would stay at the 197-room hotel that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and the mouth of the Demerara River.’’

The NICIL boss said that in the wake of legal actions in the High Court by A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) Desmond Trotman, the state’s holding company had no alternative but to plough US$16 million into the completion of the hotel.

He expects that after the legal actions are settled in favour of NICIL, the investors- including Republic Bank- would refund the monies spent by NICIL.  Prior to the court action, the investors had spent US$15.25 million. “You look at it and make an interpretation of whether this project is being exposed to a consistent level of attacks,” he said when asked why he chronicled efforts by the opposition to prevent the construction of the hotel.

At least 230 persons have been recruited from more than 3,000 applicants for various positions at the hotel.