By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
He operated here before. But, in Guyanese parlance, he “shut shop” because of the “hostility” meted out to him by members of the then political opposition (now in government) and the likes of anti-corruption advocate, Christopher Ram.
Five years later, Brazilian businessman, Yucatan Reis, has returned for another venture.
His interest in Guyana seems to always be the country’s natural resources. In 2013, Reis became very popular in the media as many kicked against a deal he had with the PPP/C administration.
That deal was approved by the then Minister of Natural Resources, Robert Persaud. At that time, Reis was after “rare earth elements.” Now, he is after Guyana’s oil.
The Department of Public Information (DPI) reported that on Thursday, a delegation of Brazilian investors met with Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.
The delegation included Reis, Alexandre Saverin, Luis Panelli, John Forman, and José Mario de Castilho.
DPI said that the investors are here to “explore areas of investment in the country’s emerging oil and gas sector.”
Saverin was quoted saying, “You see the difference. You see the progress and you see the excitement in everybody’s eyes. I think we’re starting to see the change in the country where people are starting to open new businesses and to take new risks just with the idea of the oil that is coming… We’re excited to be here and we would love to proceed with [investment] in oil [and] in infrastructure.” Panelli cited the longstanding partnership between Guyana and Brazil as the main reason behind Brazil’s keen interest in investing. “It’s important for us to be here, not only for geopolitical reasons but because we’re neighbours…We are very interested in joining you in this effort to develop the [oil and gas] field here. It is going to be a very important thing for Guyana and for Brazil… We have the means… we have the personnel and we are very keen on [investing],” he said. DPI reported no comments which were by Reis.
But, five years ago, his company pulled out of a US multimillion-dollar investment in Guyana. Reis was the co-owner of Muri Brazil Ventures Incorporated (MBVI) and the owner of Excel Minerals, a gold mining/ money transfer/ financing company.
In 2013, the People’s Progressive Party /Civic (PPP/C) government granted MBVI a permit for mineral surveying in the “ecologically fragile” New River Triangle.
However, a controversy erupted over the granting of this permit, since it was unearthed that Persaud granted permission for Geological and Geographical Survey (PGGS). This gave the company the right to occupy 2.2 million acres of land to conduct geological and geophysical surveys for rare earth elements for a period of 36 months.
The venture faced intense media scrutiny after a particular clause began to raise eyebrows. The clause enabled MBVI – anytime during the duration of the operation– to apply to the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) for a maximum of 18 prospecting licences once it satisfies attendant requirements.
The clause also stated that the application shall be granted on a priority basis.
Persaud was accused of lying to the Natural Resources Committee of Parliament over the provisions of the permit granted to MBVI.
Moreover, critics were loud about the apparent secrecy surrounding the deal which saw MBVI being able to survey some 2.2 million acres of untouched forest which was in a geographically sensitive area.
Even GGMC said that it had advised against the company getting the PGGS. It was further stated that the agency had been instructed to give the go-ahead to MBVI.
The debacle led to the company pulling out and scraping its local investment venture, citing that even though the process was legal and transparent, the “misinformation, prejudice and hostility” towards the company left it no choice but to abandon ship.
Two years later, the Panama Papers were leaked and Reis was listed a businessman linked to Guyana.
He was listed as a beneficiary of Equatorial Project Management and Engineering Enterprises Ltd – a company according to the database – that was labelled as having a “Bad debt account”.
It was noted that Harmon committed to arranging a “special meeting” with the team along with Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson to discuss possible projects.
Just last month, A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was inked between NF Agriculture Inc. and investors of Lucas do Rio Verde, located in the Brazilian State of Mato Grosso, which will see the commencement of an agricultural village in Guyana’s Intermediate Savannahs. Reis is listed as the President of NF Agriculture Inc.
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