Dec 08 – Chief Minister Has A Pecuniary Interest In Sunglasses Shop - GSD

The GSD says it notes the explanation afforded by the Chief Minister to allegations made on social media that he held an interest in a business selling sunglasses at the time he reduced duty on sunglasses to zero at the last Budget. It will be recalled, says the Opposition, that the GSD then issued a communiqué asking the Chief Minister to make a public statement as to the veracity of the allegations. Consequent on that communiqué, the Chief Minister said that the information was "out of date" and that he "used to own a sunglasses shop many years ago". He then said that he owns "a company with other investors" which now operates as "a landlord of property in Main Street, from where another business operates selling sunglasses".

The GSD says it has now had an opportunity to consider the explanations by the Chief Minister.

The Company and "the other investors"

According to the GSD, the Chief Minister owns a third of the shares in a company called Guildtown (International) Limited. The other two shareholders are businessman George Bassadone and Liberal Party executive member, Vijay Darjanani. That company has not, in breach of the Companies Act, filed any accounts since 2011, says the GSD, and it is not possible to extract any information after that date. At the last filed accounts in 2011, the company traded as Sunglass Hut from 162 Main Street. Therefore, when the Chief Minister says that he has not owned any interest in the sunglasses shop "for many years", he must mean since the end of the financial year in 2011 but before the General Election, argues the Opposition. Mr Picardo remained a director of Guildtown (International) Limited until 30 November 2012, when he resigned with retrospective effect from 1 December 2011.

As for the claim that Mr Picardo is only involved as "a landlord of property in Main Street, from where another business operates selling sunglasses" the GSD says the following:

The Main Street shop previously occupied by Guildtown (International) Limited trading as Sunglass Hut is now occupied by another sunglass business called Suntime.

The premises are, however, owned by Magdalene B. Marfe Limited, a company wholly unrelated to Guildtown (International) Limited. Magdalene B. Marfe Limited is, therefore, the head landlord and until sometime in 2011, Guildtown (International) Limited was its tenant running the shop.

Sometime in 2011, according to the GSD, Guildtown (International) Limited appears to have gone from simply being a tenant to being a sub-landlord of Magdalene B Marfe Limited. In other words, instead of leasing from Magdalene B Marfe Limited and then running the business, it has simply continued to lease the premises from Magdalene B Marfe Limited and then, in turn, is leasing the shop out to another entity which now runs the sunglass shop from the same address. The public will no doubt understand, says the Opposition, that the arrangements between Guildtown (International) Limited and that third, unknown entity, is crucial and so too are the interests behind it.

"Pecuniary interest in the shop"

Given that Guildtown (International) Limited has not filed accounts (as it should have done) since 2011, it is not possible for anyone to find out who now runs or owns the sunglass shop, says the Opposition.

However, on any view, argues the GSD, the Chief Minister does have a pecuniary interest in the sunglass business which must be paying his company rent or some other consideration. Any suggestion to the contrary, says the GSD, is “nonsensical.”

A GSD spokesman said, "the public are entitled to ask questions about this, and given the past experience we have had with the Chief Minister not being upfront with answers to our questions, we are entitled to be a little circumspect in relation to the explanation he has provided which is obviously not the entirety of the picture. The public will recall that when the Chief Minister was asked in Parliament whether the Government had directly or indirectly provided financial assistance to the owners of the Sunborn he said "no". That was not true."