The nightmare of Dominica’s Layou River Hotel project
By Thomson Fontaine
January 12, 2016 6:28 P.M
Roseau, Dominica (TDN)
As the intrepid visitor makes his way across the deeply cratered roads of the Layou valley they may just spot a few massive concrete walls trying desperately to show through the thick green foliage.
Twenty-five years on and its all that’s left of the Layou River Hotel, which was supposed to bring jobs and prosperity to the Layou Valley.
During that period, hundreds of passports were sold ostensibly to finance the project, and at least EC $120 million collected.
Today the money has all but mysteriously disappeared some to the secure hold of offshore accounts, some squandered, and a little turned into those concrete walls in the forest. Not a single job has been created,
Bottom line is the country has not benefited. Instead a few greedy and unscrupulous actors have made off with the spoils while the country continues to count the cost.
Just today hundreds of Dominicans dipped into their pockets to raise over $60 000 for Lennox Linton, Opposition Leader in parliament who dared draw attention to the ongoing saga.
In 2004 he was sued by Keiron Pinard-Byrne who in his own words stated:”The Layou Project was a pivotal project for Dominica’s tourism sector and economy. I was the audit engagement partner for The Layou Project between 1991 and 2002 during which time I experienced extraordinary, exacting and public interest professional challenges in 2006.”
Pinard-Byrne sued over remarks he claimed were made by Linton suggesting that as auditor he had “benefited from the project.” In March 2011 the High Court in Dominica ruled in his favor, a judgment overruled by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) in March 2013.
From there Pinard-Byrne would take his case all the way to the United Kingdom Privy Council a case famous for being the last one to be heard by this appellant court, as the country shifted to the jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice.
In October 2015 the Privy Council upheld the lower court’s ruling. This prompted Pinard-Byrne through his lawyers to demand payment from Linton within seven days.
An angry populace fed up with the specter of Dominican passport sales continuing in some cases with similar results as the layout River Hotel, rallied around Linton with a combination of anger, shock, and an uneasy feeling that the wrongs perpetuated through the Layou River Hotel saga continues to haunt this country.
It was the same unfolding saga that saw prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit appear in a British Virgin Island court in 2009 after he was sued by Felix Chen, who claimed that he had made a $20 million investment in the Layou River Hotel in 2005 and demanded his money back.
According to Chen “with the best of intentions, I invested $20 million in the Layou River development more than four years ago, and to this day no construction has begun and no new jobs have been created for Dominicans.”
Skerrit told the court that he would appeal to Ng Lap Seng to give him the funds to repay Felix Chen. Ng Lap Seng would in September 2015 be arrested in New York and awaits trial on money laundering and other charges.
Today’s show of support to Lennox Linton was uplifting in its manifestation if only to show that the country is not daunted by the widespread corruption linked to this project that has still not being addressed.
In a scandal that has unfolded under the stewardship of 5 of the country’s 6 prime ministers since independence, Dominicans wonder aloud if they will ever see an end to this never ending nightmare.
The unfinished walls have been swallowed up by the forest.
Sure, twenty-five years feel like a long time, enough for those concrete walls like the mirage of the millions of dollars to crumble and disappear quietly in Dominica’s dark green forests.