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Posted: Friday, April 7, 2023. 2:47 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: United States Federal authorities earlier this week announced the arrest of and charges of wire fraud and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions against Andris Pukke, the former director of Sanctuary Bay Belize, who is accused of embezzling more than US$13 million.

Pukke, 54, was arrested in Los Angeles, California, and appeared in court there on the strength of an indictment in the Federal Court in Manhattan (New York County), New York City, New York. He faces a combined maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment.

Pukke is charged that in the process of marketing and selling residential lots in the development, he made certain promises of amenities including an international airport, hospital, marina, wildlife reserve, beach club, and equestrian centres as well as roads and electricity, and falsely represented that income from lot sales would be used to develop the infrastructure and that the company and its associates were free of debt.

As it turns out, there was US$12 million in debt and more than US$13 million of US$124 million received in sales from residential lots was improperly and illegally transferred to designated recipients, then concealed in official books and records as business expenses including for professional fees, legal fees, consulting fees, loans receivable and online advertising expenses.

The indictment further charges that the funds were used personally by Pukke for his own benefit including the renovation of his home in Newport Beach, California; investments in various entities unrelated to Sanctuary Belize; investments in unrelated real estate developments; repayment of personal debt; and payments to Pukke’s family members.

According to Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, “Andris Pukke sold residential lots in Belize with a promise to build out an affordable vacation and retirement community in a tropical paradise. Instead, Pukke’s planned paradise turned out to be just a mirage, as he allegedly stole the very funds the development needed to pay for roads, utilities, and other infrastructure, leaving the lot buyers with nothing but land they cannot access or use. This Office will continue to aggressively pursue consumer fraud to ensure that businesses deliver on their promises to their customers.”

Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), added, “The defendant, as alleged, sold his victims dreams of a tropical haven; instead, he used their money for his own interests. Investigating and holding financial fraudsters like Pukke accountable in the criminal justice system remains a top priority for the FBI.”

The Sanctuary Bay affair led to the winding-up of Belize’s largest offshore bank, Atlantic International Bank Limited (AIBL) five years ago this month, after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) uncovered what it called the largest real estate fraud it had seen in its history. The Bank had to repay US$23 million from its funds after the FTC went after it and Sanctuary Bay’s partners in court. One Belizean, John Usher, who was the alleged point man in the scheme, was ordered by a Maryland court in 2020 to repay US$138.7 million in compensation for the scheme.

 

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