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Coral Capital quietly funds Cuba ventures.

Ceiba Investments, a growth fund that's helping finance the renovation of Old Havana's Hotel Saratoga and other ventures throughout the island, isn't the only British investment firm active in Cuba.

Coral Capital Group (UK) Ltd. is another outfit involved in bankrolling the Saratoga's $16 million facelift.

Established in 1999 and registered in the British Virgin Islands, Coral Capital is headed by Amado Fakhre--a British-Lebanese financier who's gone out of his way to keep a low profile. Very little has been written about Fakhre or his company, though he was included in a 1999 article in USA Today about foreign investment in Cuba.

At that time, Fakhre confirmed that he had put together a team of investors for Cuba ventures and was involved in the Saratoga project--in hopes of reselling it to a global chain like the Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton.

Even though Fakhre's aim was to flip the hotel over to U.S. investors--assuming the embargo would be lifted--he still credited the embargo for giving him the opportunity to do business with the Cubans.

"Anywhere the Americans can't be must be good for me," he told USA Today at the time. "If it weren't for the embargo, the Cubans wouldn't be giving me the time of day. They'd be talking to Ritz-Carlton themselves."

With the embargo still firmly in place, Fakhre's firm eventually launched several spinoffs. One was Coral Capital Entertainment Ltd., which along with the Cuban state-run film institute co-produced "El Benny"--a 2006 documentary about the life of 1950s crooner Benny More.

Following its Havana premiere, "El Benny" was Cuba's entry to the 79th Academy Award nominations, and was nominated for the Cartagena Film Festival Award, the Golden Leopard Award and the Locarno International Film Festival.

Coral Capital Entertainment, which holds the license for the film's soundtrack, began distributing it in CD and DVD formats in the United States, Canada and Western Europe.

Meanwhile, Coral Capital seems to be conducting a far more lucrative business providing financing to various Cuban ventures, though company officials couldn't be reached by CubaNews for comment.

Coral Capital Debt Fund B.V., registered in Curacao, provides short and medium-term financing to local and foreign entities based in Cuba, and since 2000 has identified itself as an investor in short-term Cuban debt instruments.

The company says it "has obtained yields above market rates" in those investments.

"The increasing need for local finance, added to the high interest rates being paid even by borrowers able to put up security in an increasingly liquid market, indicated the opportunity of setting up a debt fund to participate at this stage in the local market and allow investors to take advantage of present conditions," said the company.

To reinforce that point, in June the company told its investors that Raul Castro's latest economic reforms "open up possibilities for new lines of credit" for its Cuba ventures.
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Author:Echevarria, Vito
Publication:CubaNews
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Words:478
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