Following two civil recovery related Supreme Court rulings handed down by Justice Ramsey Hale last week, acting attorney general Rhondalee Braithwaite, said, “We are delighted to have been successful in obtaining judgment in the claim against Richardson Arthur.”
"This is another substantial judgment for the civil recovery team, at $1.35m (less $200,000 already paid to the Turks and Caicos Islands government by Mr Arthur) plus more than five year’s interest,” she added.
Acting attorney general Rhondalee Braithwaite
According to Braithwaite, the claim arose out of a serious case of land ‘flipping’ which took place in 2008. Richardson ‘Ritchie’ Arthur, the former local pilot for former premier Michael Misick, acquired a piece of Crown land for $50,000 and then almost immediately resold it for development for $1.35 million.
Arthur is currently a partner in the local airline Caicos Express, which competes with recently renamed InterCaribbean Airways, owned by Lyndon Gardiner. Arthur was also a pilot for the Sky King airline owned by Harold Charles, which shut down operations and sold its routes to Gardiner.
The Arthur case was prosecuted by the civil recovery team and was heard along with a similar case against the former director of planning Clyde Robinson, in which the court ruled against the government.
"We have also received and are reviewing the judgment in the claim against Clyde Robinson and his former wife, Susannah Bishop. We are disappointed not to have also been successful in that claim. Like the Arthur case this also involved the acquisition of a piece of Crown land (adjacent to that acquired by Mr Arthur) by Mr Robinson, who transferred it to his then wife, who then sold it for $1.5m to the same developer as Mr Arthur,” Braithwaite explained.
"Again we welcome the judge’s finding that McAllister Hanchell breached his fiduciary duties by directing the use of an out of date valuation; it is, however surprising that the judge found that Mr Robinson’s conduct was not unconscionable, nor was it a breach of his own fiduciary duties as a senior government official,” she continued.
Braithwaite said the Attorney General’s Chambers is troubled by the findings in the Robinson matter and they will be considering the judgment carefully and whether they should appeal.
She also welcomed the judge’s finding that McAllister Hanchell, then minister of natural resources, breached his fiduciary duties as minister by directing the use of an out of date valuation in connection with the sale; and that he also exceeded his delegated authority to transfer Crown land and abused his position in order to convey the freehold title to Arthur.
"We also welcome the finding that Mr Arthur knew that the transfer to him on the beneficial terms that Mr Hanchell directed was wrong,” Braithwaite said.
Both Arthur and Robinson were represented by Arial Misick.
Braithwaite said that judgment in the Arthur claim is an important milestone in the civil recovery programme and it demonstrates that a serious abuse occurred in the management of Crown land, the Turks and Caicos Islands’ prime asset.
"We are very pleased that this abuse has been dealt with by the courts. It also adds significantly to the judgments obtained by the civil recovery team. Since April of this year, the team has obtained judgments and cash recoveries of nearly $4m alone, as well as recovering nearly 600 acres of land. The Civil Recovery team has now obtained cash and judgment orders or agreements to pay totalling over $23.3m, and has recovered nearly 3,100 acres of land which has been or is being re-registered as Crown land,” she said.
Braithwaite has since come in for criticism from those close to the Progressive National Party (PNP) for her choice of words used in announcing the judgment.
In a press release, former minister Hanchell said, "I note her delight to have received judgment against Richardson Arthur and her disappointment as it relates to Clyde Robinson. I also note that she is troubled by the decision of a judge of the Supreme Court in Clyde Robinson's case and that she is considering spending more of the public's money to pursue an appeal.”
According to Hanchell, the welcoming of the judge’s findings by the acting attorney general is a total misrepresentation of what is inferred in the decision and the selective reference to particular statements intended to create mischief against him.
“I was not party to either of these proceedings and cannot comment further in this regard; however, it is unfair that the attorney general sought to make me a central figure in the case, without joining me in as a defendant or calling me as a witness,” he said.
In a press statement on Friday, Arthur said, "I believe that the outcome is unfair to me as I have done no more than the other Belongers who were also given land and made the land given to them available for development to the Shore Club at a profit. The Shore Club is now under construction and will bring more benefits to the government and people of the Turks and Caicos Islands than me building a house on the land could ever do. The government's policy of empowering Belongers in this case has disempowered me."
According to Arthur, a mistake was made at the Land Registry, which resulted in the land being transferred to him for US$50,000 instead of the agreed price of US$200,000 and he has since paid the extra US$150,000 to the government following the commencement of the proceedings.