By Kimberly Morin
Last week, Kevin Landrigan of the Union Leader shared a story from Politico Pro that pointed out Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Chris Sununu’s lie about Waterville Valley only having local investors. Sununu made the claim about having only local investors back in 2010 when he purchased the resort. Sununu often talked about local control and even claimed that he could have gone to outside investors but chose not to, he lied. Landrigan followed this up with another story in the Union Leader yesterday.
Who exactly is Safa Trust and why would a Virginia-based organization invest in a New Hampshire ski resort that needed millions of dollars sunk into it? Why would a Virginia-based organization, whose mission statement as listed in Guidestar, “To promote and contribute to religious, educational, cultural, and charitable activities, programs, and organizations,” invest over $1 million dollars in a New Hampshire ski resort? Especially an organization that focuses on the religion of Islam?
Safa Trust is an organization that was formed along with SAAR Foundation in the 90s, named after Saudi Abdul Aziz Al Rajhi. In early 2002, the SAAR Foundation was investigated for funding Islamic terrorist organizations. Although the organization had dissolved in 2000, the investigation of SAAR and its related organizations continued. The group has been fined more than $500,000 for contempt charges for failing to hand over documents in the grand jury investigation. It was under the Obama Administration that any prosecutions of SAAR/Safa and IIIT players were stopped.
What’s interesting is the Obama Administration continued to move forward against HSBC for being part of the money-laundering scheme that was apparently part of the SAAR/Safa investigation. In 2012, HSBC (Hong Kong Shangai Bank Corporation) bank agreed to forfeit $1.256 billion for “engaging in money laundering that involved the finance of drug cartels and groups to ties with terrorism.”
Why would an Islamic charity invest in a New Hampshire ski resort?
Questions still abound about Safa’s possible links to Islamic terrorist supporters. They continue to provide work space and monetary benefits to the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). This is an organization that apparently has ties to the extremist Saudi-Wahhabi movement which breeds Islamic terrorism across the globe. IIIT was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood. How is it that Safa came to even know who Chris Sununu is? The answer is: his father, John Sununu.
John Sununu, disgraced former Bush Administration Chief of Staff and former New Hampshire Governor, is apparently “long-time friends” with some of the people involved with Safa Trust according to the Politico Pro report. In August of 2011, John Sununu delivered the key note address at IIIT’s annual Friends of IIIT Iftar/Dinner. Records show that Safa Trust has been an investor in Waterville Valley from day one. Their 2010 Form 990 shows their investment in Waterville Valley at a cost of $750,000. That cost grows over the next couple of years and increases to over $1.1 million in 2012. It declines over the next couple of years. Waterville Valley is the only investment for which Safa Trust doesn’t list its percentage of ownership.
It’s also interesting that official Waterville Valley vehicles, expensive BMWs, are at the site with New Jersey license plates. Why would vehicles owned by a New Hampshire business have New Jersey license plates? Does Sununu have New Jersey investors he hasn’t spoken about?
Not only did Chris Sununu lie about Waterville Valley having only local investors under his leadership but he seems to stretch the truth in other areas as well. Sununu always claims he is in charge of 800 employees but that number can’t be found anywhere other than coming out of his mouth. Previous reports claimed the resort had around 50 full time staff and up to 500 seasonal employees. Considering Sununu hasn’t make the improvements to the slopes that he promised to make when he first purchased the resort, it’s hard to believe he also has more employees. The resort is dated and needs many upgrades, even to its parking lots.
Major improvements still not done at Waterville
In 2011, Sununu proposed a new trail be open that people had been clamoring for a long time, called the ‘Green Peak’ proposal. Since the land is federally owned, the proposal had to be approved by the White Mountain National Forest Supervisor. The expansion was approved and announced in 2013 but no work began on the project.
After making changes to the proposal in 2014, including scraping the purchase of a brand new ski lift for one that has been istalled since 1985, the project was once again slated to begin. Basically, Sununu didn’t have money for the brand new lift as originally proposed and there are no plans to replace the older lift they will be moving. To date, all that’s been done is the old ski lift disassembled. No land has been cleared other than one symbolic tree and nothing else seems to be moving forward.
Sununu has not made Waterville Valley a success since he purchased the resort and took over leadership. He has not improved the resort, to the disappointment of many, especially locals. The ski resort is not open year round like others in the state and there isn’t a whole lot to do at Town Square, also owned by Sununu as part of the deal.
In the Waterville Valley town 2011 master plan, they state the following about the resort:
The Waterville Valley Ski Resort has been a major contributor to the Town and its ongoing economic health and vitality will have a very strong impact on the overall health of the community. The Town should make every effort to understand, support, and encourage a top quality Ski Resort.
Sununu also owns the Waterville Valley Conference Center to which the following comment was made in the master plan:
A state-of the-art conference facility can be a major contributor to our Town, especially during off-seasons… The existing facility is aging and is not attractive to prime corporate clients. A top quality corporate conference facility for the Valley should be investigated and encouraged.
To date, none of the above has happened. Property values in the area have decreased four out of the five years since Sununu acquired Waterville Valley while proptery taxes have increased from $11.20 to $14.40 per $1,000 over the same period.
Sununu hasn’t followed through on his grand plans to make Waterville Valley a top notch resort nor can he seem to find more investors in his business. He showed up in New Hampshire after being in California for around a decade, worked a couple of years with his family then purchased a ski resort. Sununu had never run a business before and it’s still unclear who all of his investors were other than the out-of-state Safa Trust and they were outed by Politico Pro. Why anyone would invest in a multi-million dollar project with someone who had never run a business before, let alone a business in the tough ski industry, is unclear aside from his father’s friends at Safa Trust.
Chris Sununu hasn’t run Waterville Valley successfully. The residents of the town as well as other locals counted on him to follow through with his plans and finally had some hope that the ski resort would become the top quality resort it could be. Unfortunately, under Sununu’s leadership that hasn’t happened.
Sununu not only lied about local investors but showed questionable judgment by having investors who were under investigation for years over ties with Islamic terrorists. Safa still has questionable ties to this day. He also didn’t come through on any of the plans he promised. If Sununu can’t honestly and successfully run a ski resort in a town with 300 residents depending upon him, how in the hell can he run the entire Granite State with over 1.3 million residents depending upon him?
Susan Olsen contributed to this story.