Lee Chin can claim his castle - Wins court battle for Trident property

Published: Sunday | August 9, 2009 Comments 0

Trident Castle, a Portland landmark now owned by billionaire investor Michael Lee Chin.

Barbara Gayle, Gleaner Staff Reporter

The Court of Appeal has declared billionaire Michael Lee Chin the beneficial owner of Trident Castle, the impressive Portland landmark operated as a luxury villa that has hosted many of the world's rich and famous.

The ruling clears the way for the completion of the transfer of the property Lee Chin is acquiring from its former owner, retired architect and businessman, Earl Levy.

Trident Castle, spread over 52 square feet of land four miles east of Port Antonio and built by Levy in the late 1970s, has been at the centre of a court battle since Ken Sales and Marketing Limited some years ago received a judgement for $28.5 million against Levy's company, Trident Villas and Hotels Limited, for goods supplied.

Pursuing the collection of the money it was awarded, Ken Sales sought and received on November 7, 2007, an injunction in the Supreme Court preventing Trident Villas from transferring any of its assets, including the Trident Castle.

Lee Chin entered into an agreement with Trident Villas in February 2007 to purchase Trident Castle for US$2.1 million. He paid US$210,000 of the purchase price and on February 5, 2007, a caveat was lodged on Lee Chin's behalf and endorsed on the title to the property.

Levy was reported to be asking US$8 million for the property when it went on the market a year ago.


On February 15, 2008, the injunction in favour of Ken Sales granted by Supreme Court judge Justice Brooks was discharged by another judge, Justice Horace Marsh, but Ken Sales appealed that decision.

The Court of Appeal heard Ken Sales' appeal in July 2008 and handed down judgement earlier this week, dismissing the appeal.

The court held that Ken Sales was guilty of material nondisclosure, in that when it applied to Justice Brooks for the injunction it had not disclosed some important information.

The court noted in its judgement that Lee Chin had bought the Castle in February 2007, and had lodged a caveat on February 5, 2007.

The Court of Appeal agreed with arguments by Lee Chin's lawyers Michael Hylton, QC, and Kevin Powell, that when the Canada-based billionaire signed the agreement in February 2007, he became the beneficial owner of the property, and so, when Justice Brooks granted the injunction in November of that year, Trident Villas did not have any beneficial interest in the property and the freezing order should not have been made.

Attorney Maurice Manning, who represented Trident Villas and 80 year-old Levy, the majority shareholder in Trident Villas, had argued for the dismissal of Ken Sales' appeal.

Disposing of assets

Kenneth Biersay, managing director of Ken Sales, maintained in court documents filed on November 5, 2007, that "the defendants (Trident Villas) are seeking to dispose of their assets, including the land subject of the order for sale in an effort to frustrate the claimant (Ken Sales) and prevent it from recovering the fruits of the judgement".

Levy said in his affidavit filed on November 21, 2007, that he owned 9,000 of the 10,000 shares in Trident Villas and had no property anywhere else in Jamaica. "I have absolutely no intention or desire to migrate or dissipate mine or the company's assets. I can, therefore, confirm that there is no risk, real or otherwise, of dissipation of mine or the company's assets," Levy said.

Lee Chin was named as a respondent in the suit.

The Court of Appeal, comprising its president, Justice Seymour Panton, and Justices Howard Cooke and Mahadev Dukharan, held that Lee Chin, in lodging the caveat, was acting within the provision of Section 139 of the Registration of Titles Act.

The court said Lee Chin was entitled to protect his interest by lodging the caveat, since once the agreement for the sale of Trident Castle was executed, he became the beneficial owner of the property.

Submissions by Ken Sales lawyers Carol Davis and Gillian Mullings that Lee Chin's contract was not valid because there was no evidence that the deposit of US$21,000 had been paid, was dismissed by the court.

Lee Chin, who had already acquired the adjoining 42-room Trident Hotel and Villas in 2003, plans to integrate the castle into the redevelopment of the Trident property.

The redevelopment is part of a stalled $20 billion plan for Portland, Lee Chin's parish of birth, that involves the conversion of the Trident property into a signature ultra-luxury five-star resort, reopening the Blue Lagoon, rebuilding the Titchfield Hotel, and building a resort on Navy Island.

Lee Chin said in media reports earlier this year that uncertainties related to the global recession had forced a pause on the redevelopment work.


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