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Paraguay – Prosecutors look to reopen investigation into Ciudad del Este casino

By - 12 September 2018

The Public Prosecutor’s Office in Paraguay has requested that the investigation into the now cancelled building of a large-scale casino and hotel in Ciudad del Este be reopened.

In January this year then head of the gaming commission Javier Balbuena (CONAJZAR) confirmed the cancellation of the construction of a casino and hotel on the eleven-hectare site owned by the National Administration of Navigation and Ports (ANNP). The ANNP property is located at the head of the Friendship Bridge (Puente de la Amistad) – an arch bridge connecting the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu and Ciudad del Este.

Charges had been put forward against the mayor of Ciudad del Este Sandra McLeod de Zacarías Irún as well as a number of ex city officials over accusations that they had unlawfully paved the way for the use of the institution’s land valued at around US$185m for the construction of the hotel and casino. However, in December 2017 The Justice department dismissed the accusations centred on the usurpation of authority and criminal association for approving ordinance 002/2015, which declared the property of the ANNP as an area for the building of a casino.

Prosecutors now wish to reopen the investigation after lawyers acting on behalf of The Union for workers at Paraguay’s National Ports Authority re launched the complaint and challenged the decision.

This has led to renewed interest on behalf of the public prosecution service. The new prosecutor of the case Andrés Arriola has requested that the case be reopened in order to launch a more thorough investigation.

The building of the large-scale casino was the subject of considerable controversy from the very beginning. Union officials had rejected the use of the land as they argue that it violates Ports Law No. 1066/65, 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.

The Alto Paraná regional headquarters of the Paraguayan Chamber of Construction (CAPACO) as well as a number of architect guilds and university faculties also joined other organisations in order to call for plans for the casino to be scrapped. CAPACO and a number of architects from the Universidad Catolica and The Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the Universidad Privada del Este insisted that the location of the casino was a local heritage site as the ANNP marks the spot where Ciudad del Este was initially founded and as such plays a vital role in the city’s urban heritage.

Former president Horacio Cartes authorised the call for tender and in March 2017 signed Decree 6865 approving the call for bids and authorised the Minister of Industry and Commerce to sign a contract with the winner. The building houses a number of government offices including the Customs Office which would have moved to another location a short distance away.
Despite the controversy, a number of operators were 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 would have stood at between US$50m and US$70m.

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