Former Baha Mar owner sues Chinese contractor over 'massive fraud'

FILE PHOTO: Baha Mar's Chairman and CEO Sarkis Izmirlian poses in front of a counter promoting the Bahamian Riviera resort during the Global Gaming Expo Asia in Macau May 22, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

(Reuters) - The original owner of the Baha Mar Resort, BML Properties Ltd, has filed a $2.25 billion lawsuit alleging a “massive fraud” by the Chinese contractor of the luxury hotel and casino project in Nassau, the Bahamas, that opened its doors in April after years of delays.

The 259-page complaint, filed in state court in Manhattan on Tuesday, accuses Chinese state-backed contractor China Construction America (CCA) of running a self-enrichment scheme that led to the failure of the $3.5 billion mega-resort project in 2015.

CCA, a subsidiary of Shanghai-listed China State Construction Engineering Corp Ltd 601668.SS, did not return requests for comment.

The largest-ever Caribbean resort project, meant to be an economic driver for the island, struggled under a series of construction delays and funding squabbles that led to finger-pointing between the local developer Baja Mar Ltd, CCA and China’s export finance bank - the main lender on the project - as to who was to blame for the delays.

Baja Mar Ltd, a fully owned subsidiary of BML Properties, declared bankruptcy in 2015 and the resort was acquired by Hong Kong-based Chow Tai Fook Enterprises in 2016.

According to the complaint, CCA submitted hundreds of millions of dollars in sham bills to BML while understaffing the project and using it to train inexperienced workers for other construction projects in the region.

“The scheme was based on CCA’s efforts to falsely create the appearance that it was working toward an on time and on budget opening in December 2014 while knowingly and fraudulently concealing its real intent not to construct the Project on time and on budget and in the process extort more money than it earned and was due,” the lawsuit said.

As a result, it said BML Properties lost its entire $845 million equity investment in the project, as well as its right to the future benefits of running a world-class resort.

BML Properties is led by Bahamas businessman Sarkis Izmirlian, son of Armenian billionaire Dikran Izmirlian.

Reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis