Aug 17 (Reuters) - The opening of the $3.5 billion Baha Mar mega-resort in the Bahamas is expected to be delayed beyond the start of the Christmas season, with the developer deep in an escalating legal battle with the Chinese companies that are providing most of the finance and construction work.
Even if construction on the unfinished resort resumed this month, there is little chance the project could be completed by mid-December, the start of the high season for Bahamas resorts, according to local contractors who have worked on the project. They asked not to be named because they are still seeking payment for some of their work.
These sources said it would take a least five months to complete the resort, partly because the project has fallen behind on inspections while some key contractors have moved on to other jobs.
Baha Mar missed a March 27 opening because of construction delays and dwindling cash. Missing the high season, when resorts charge premium prices, would further hurt its finances.
Sarkis Izmirlian, whose Baha Mar Ltd is developer of the project, is trying to restructure the project's finances in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. A Bahamas resident, Izmirlian is the son of Armenian billionaire Dikran Izmirlian who made his fortunate in the peanut market.
But the Bahamian government, along with China's Export Import Bank and China Construction America (CCA), are trying to block that move as they initiate a separate liquidation proceeding in Nassau. China ExIm has bankrolled most of the project and CCA is the main contractor.
Officials with CCA and China ExIm did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Several calls left for Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie were not returned.
Baha Mar's legal battle and internal squabbles have roiled the country's fragile economy.
During a July 28 radio interview in the Bahamas, Izmirlian said Baha Mar could open for the Christmas season, but that window was closing "very rapidly," as legal maneuvers by the Chinese and Bahamas government would only delay an opening.
A lawyer for Baha Mar Ltd told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Carey on Monday that settlement talks between Izmirlian and the Chinese remain halted. With no face-to-face meetings, energy is being put toward the ongoing litigation, said Tyson Lomazow, a lawyer at Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy LLP.
Baha Mar Ltd declined to comment on the possibility of a Christmas opening, but said in a statement it was trying to get a resolution that would allow an opening as soon as possible. (Reporting by Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Frances Kerry)