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Paraguay – Ports want President of Paraguay on trial for casino land

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Members of Paraguay’s National Ports Authority (ANNP) have announced their intention to put the President of Paraguay Horacio Cartes on trial for permitting the use of the institution’s land for the construction of a hotel and casino in the city of Ciudad del Este.

The complaint before the Prosecutor’s Office also encompasses other public officials including local mayor Sandra McLeod de Zacarías as well as other officials for the usurpation of authority. Union members reject Presidential decrees No. 6131 and 6865 as they argue that it violates Ports Law No. 1066, which prohibits via article 16 the use of commercial, financial, or industrial operations which are not in keeping with the port’s main objective.

They also claim that the concession of the 11 hectare site was carried out without the approval of the Board of the ANNP. Earlier this month, President Cartes by decree authorised the call for tender for the concession of the land to foreign investors for the construction of a large scale hotel and casino on the site. The Director of the National Customs Service of Paraguay Nelson Valiente has also ordered the transfer of the administrative units of the ANNP and the Customs Office. The building currently houses a number of government offices including the Customs Office which will have to move to another site a short distance away. The new measure is scheduled to take effect on July 1.

In a statement Nicolás Russo the lawyer acting on behalf of the union said: “Horacio Cartes Jara, Sandra McLeod de Zacarias (the Mayor of Ciudad del Este), Gustavo Leite (Minister of Industry and Commerce), Javier Balbuena (President of the National Gaming Commission) and his accomplices will be reported to the Public Ministry for the usurpation of public authority for the Directory of Ports and for producing a document with false ideological content. And we also anticipate that we are going to demand the political judgment of the President for the poor performance of his duties, apart from perpetrating a criminal act against the patrimony of the Paraguayan people.”

He also pointed out that negotiations over the use of the site began in 2013 with the then head of the ANNP and current Deputy, Fernando Nicora, and that the case ended with his imputation and that of former members of the board. Russo has also asked the public prosecutor to charge a number of other public officials on the same charge as they approved Ordinance No. 02/2015 by which the land was granted.

The authorisation of the site for the building of a casino has been bitterly contested. In December last year Mr Russo denounced the Head of the gaming commission Javier Balbuena to the anti-corruption unit of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Russo denounced the official on a number of charges including malfeasance in office, breach of trust as well as the production of false documents and the destruction of the historical and cultural heritage of the city of Ciudad del Este.

All the same a number of operators are believed to be interested in opening a casino at the site including Hard Rock International as well as other operators from the United States and Chile. According to the terms of the new bidding process, total investment will stand between US$50m and US$70m and the licence will be granted for 20 years.

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