Turks and Caicos making strides in getting back stolen land

 

jcharles@MiamiHerald.com

Efforts by the British to help citizens of the Turks and Caicos Islands recover thousands of acres in illegally sold government land possibly valued at more than $100 million, are making progress, said the law firm leading the program.

Laurence Harris, who is involved in the recovery, will visit the British-dependent territory Thursday to discuss his firm's results. Among what he's expected to tell islanders: Since last year, an additional $17 million and 1,600 acres have been recovered.

So far, $19.5 million and 2,508 acres have been recouped. It's expected that up to another 1,000 acres could also come back to the government, Harris and partner Edwards Wildman said in a statement.

In 2009, Wildman's United Kingdom law firm won the bid to help British authorities, investigating allegations of corruption in the chain, to recoup the state land allegedly sold by government officials at huge profits. A popular tourism spot, Turks and Caicos is 575 miles southeast of Miami.

"The substantial amount of cash and land recovered over the last 12 months coincides with the successful conclusion of a number of cases where judgments have been given in the government’s favor," said the statement.

With the right long-term investment, the recovered land could be valued at more than $100 million, the lawyers said.

"We hope that the very substantial value that is intrinsic to the land we have recovered will be understood in the future as bringing real long term opportunity to the Islands in a way that would not have been possible without these recoveries," the lawyers added.

Four years ago, following a Commission of Inquiry looking into allegations of widespread corruption in the Turks and Caicos, the British launched an $11 million a year criminal investigation. So far, more than a dozen individuals, including former government ministers, have been charged with corruption-related offenses. The islands' former premier is in a Brazilian jail awaiting extradition and 62 civil recovery cases remain open.

The government hopes to conclude the recovery program by this summer.

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