Developer of new International Airport accused of fraud
Friday, December 22nd, 2017
Shortly after the Government of Belize signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the construction of a multi-million international airport in northern Ambergris Caye with International Airport Alliance Belize Limited (IAA), its developer Jorge Abraham Jaen has come under much scrutiny following accusations of being a fraudster. A dissemination of documents shows that Jaen’s past accuses him of making false representations to obtain loans and was arrested in 2006 on charges of fraud, with a previous conviction for conspiracy to commit extortion and voter fraud. However, despite such serious accusations, the IAA has come forward to defend him and allegedly nothing has changed in the plans for the execution of works at the Basil Jones Area of the island where construction for the Efrain Guerrero International Airport will take place within the next 12 months.
Details of the construction of the airport, which is estimated to cost $100 million US dollars are yet to be made available and many service providers on the island are mute on the matter. It is speculated that to build such a mega infrastructure large quantity of materials will be needed. Some of that material may come from the northern side of the island where a quarry is known to be the source for hard-core building material. However, and allegedly, no arrangements have been made, but it has been stated that as soon as the project gets its environmental clearances from the Department of the Environment building will begin.
The MOU was signed on Tuesday, December 12th, by Minister of Economic Development, Honourable Erwin Contreras, who along with Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Honourable Manuel Heredia Jr., support the project. Heredia stated that he is more than pleased with the idea of an international airport on the island, which according to him will enhance the island’s reputation. “That group has a track record of doing several international airports including one most recently in Curacao,” said Heredia. He added that once the airport is completed it will accommodate about 12 wide-bodied-aircrafts.
However, after further investigating it was revealed that the IAA company was first registered in October of 2016, and Jaen is named as its manager. According to documents, IAA is listed as a company for development and management of airports and hotels along with the promotion of entertainment events. But there are no records of them having constructed airports, including the one in Curacao Heredia mentioned. It has become clear to the Belizean public that Jaen and the company he represents have no experience in building airports. The company has no website and the only way to find any information about it is through its parent company called International Airport Alliance LLC registered in Florida, USA. This company is owned and managed by Jaen and another person by the name of John Smith.
In addition, a document from the Inspector General of Miami-Dade County details the accusations against Jaen. The release from the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) probe reports on the arrest of Jaen relating a foreclosure surplus fraud perpetrated through the county courts. The document further states that it was the eight arrests resulting from the investigation into fraudulent filings in the Circuit Courts. The investigations are said to have begun after a group of concerned Circuit Court Judges alerted the OIG. According to the release, Jaen was also linked to another OIG probe, which uncovered a scheme to steal surplus foreclosure funds through fraudulent misrepresentations. It is alleged that Jaen made several false representations in order to obtain a car loan, including false documentation to the lender. The document concludes that Jaen has a history of fraud, including a 1998 conviction for conspiracy to commit extortion and a conviction for voter fraud relating to former City of Miami Commissioner Humberto Hernan’s re-election campaign that same year.
Despite the questionable activities and accusations, the IAA is now asking the Belizean people to give Jaen a chance just the way they did. In a release issued by the said company, they emphasized their commitment to Belize and the project. “International Airport Alliance is committed and strongly believes in the Ambergris Caye Airport project for which it has diligently worked on for over 14 months. We also want to assure the citizens of Belize that we remain fully confident and transparent that our company will not only fulfill its professional obligations but will also do it in a way that Belize will be proud of,” the release from IAA said.
There have been no further comments from Heredia and none from Contreras on the situation. While residents on the island speculate that such project could be an opportunity for laundering money they are comparing the project to a previous disgraced project. According to them, it is no surprise that Heredia and Contreras are again supporting such a mega project the same way they did with Puerto Azul, which saw several investors scammed out of millions of dollars and resulted in several arrests as well.
On Tuesday, December 19th, The People’s United Party (PUP) released an official statement on the matter. The PUP’s interpretation of the proposed multi-million dollar international airport is that of a ‘Déjà vu all over again.’ “The news that the investor is actually a realtor based in Miami with no experience in building or in airport development should come as absolutely no surprise to Belizeans,” the released in part said. It also named previous instances where purported investors have been paraded with ministers all too happy to pose to the cameras without doing due diligence. The Opposition party also noted that Jaen appears to be nothing more than a con-artist. The release ends by stating that Belize cannot risk more fallouts arising from the incompetence of the current Government under the United Democratic Party.
The release ends by saying that “the country cannot risk more fallout arising from the incompetence and stupidity of our U.D.P. Ministers.”
Meanwhile on Ambergris Caye, islanders believe that before authorities embark on such a mega-project, priorities for the island should include much-needed infrastructure such as proper streets and sewage, a hospital, adequate housing for residents and more hotel rooms, given the fact that the airport will draw a much larger influx of visitors. According to them, when all that is done, then the leaders of this country can think about projects like the Efrain Guerrero International Airport.
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