Court told ‘businessman wheeling and dealing in risky financial affairs’, and not land grab victim
Members of a commission of inquiry into cases of illegal land grabs were correct to reject a complaint on the grounds that it did not come under its remit, a lawyer has argued.
Delroy Duncan QC, said that commissioners dismissed several complaints by property developer Khalid Wasi because the losses he suffered were the result of commercial decisions rather than through “unlawful or irregular means”.
Earlier this week Mr Wasi told a hearing into the legality of the Commission of Inquiry into Historical Losses of Land, that he had come to an agreement with the Bermuda Housing Corporation in the 1980s.
Under the agreement, BHC gave him finances to upgrade a number of properties he owned in North Pembroke.
In return, BHC would take over control of the homes for 25 years, renting them out to BHC clients.
But after Mr Wasi ran for Parliament as an independent candidate shortly after, he claimed BHC tore up the contract and demanded he immediately pay back the funds it had provided. As a result, he had to sell off the properties at a loss.
In court yesterday, Mr Duncan, representing the Commission, said there was no evidence that Mr Wasi had been the victim of illegal or underhand practices – and the commission was therefore correct to dismiss his complaint as it did not come within its terms of reference.
He told Assistant Justice Hugh Southey: “We say that it is clear in this case that this was a businessman who was being foreclosed on commercial properties.
“Here was a commercial businessman wheeling and dealing in risky financial affairs who, as a result of the ups and downs of business was put in a position where his commercial properties were being called. It was not within the terms of reference – it was strictly a commercial dispute.”
Mr Duncan pointed out that no entity made any financial gain after calling in Mr Wasi’s debts.
“There was no benefit to the BHC because it loaned money and then got repaid what it was owed. It never possessed the property. The Corporation’s motives in appointing a receiver were commercial, not political.
“If the BHC was politically motivated, there would have been aggressive legal proceedings against him which did not take place. This allegation of political motivation has no legs. It has no foundation.”
He added: “The terms of reference were designed to deal with one category of case which involved the systemic deprivation of property.
“There is no doubt that the colour and context of Parliamentary debates was referring to systemic in terms of what had gone on in years gone by.
“Systemic was referring not only to individuals who had denied Bermudians of their properties, but also the race and class of those who had facilitated the dispossession of properties of Black Bermudians.”
In response, Mr Wasi said the matter was being “clouded in misinformation” and that he did not enter into a contract with BHC to make a profit.
He pointed out that the head of the BHC was also the chairman of the then-ruling United Bermuda Party’s election committee – and that BHC scrapped its agreement with him just 14 days after he ran for Parliament.
He said: “They reneged on a deal. It was perfectly legal what they did but was it irregular? In my view, it was irregular. It was not fair what they did.
“I wrote all this out to the Commission. How they can regard it as a regular commercial transaction … I don’t know how they got from A to z.”
Mr Duncan also claimed that the Commission invited Mr Wasi to provide evidence of his allegations – but that he refused.
Mr Wasi described that allegation as “completely untrue”.
Mr Justice Southey repeatedly reminded the court that he was not tasked with deciding whether Mr Wasi had been the victim of systemic abuse that resulted in him losing his property.
He said that he had to decide whether the Commission had acted legally when it reduced the scope of its own remit, and whether it had acted reasonably in dismissing Mr Wasi’s complaints without examining them further.