By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Former workers are bidding to jail City Markets principal, Mark Finlayson, because he and other trustees have allegedly failed to obey previous Supreme Court Orders to hand over funds to the defunct supermarket chain’s employee pension fund.
A September 24, 2023, Supreme Court Order by Justice Hartman Longley grants permission for 10 former City Markets workers to apply for an Order that would send Mr Finlayson, and the other two trustees for the Bahamas Supermarkets Profit Sharing and Retirement Plan, to Fox Hill Prison.
They are claiming that the trio, who include Constance Rolle and Christine Turnquest, have committed “several alleged contempt” of Court by “failing or refusing” to pay funds due to the staff pension fund.
The documents, which have been obtained by Tribune Business, claim that the trio - as current or former pension plan trustees - breached Supreme Court Orders dating from December 5, 2012, and two subsequent ones on August 1 and August 22, 2013, which respectively extended the time for payment to be made.
The monies in question involve the proceeds generated from selling equipment in the former City Markets Cable Beach store, which the pension fund owned, to Rupert Roberts’ Quality Supermarkets business, plus “proceeds raised from the sale and redemption of bonds” once held by the plan.
Mr Finlayson could be contacted for comment yesterday, despite voice and text messages being left on his cell phone.
Yet earlier this year Mr Finlayson said the employee pension fund had received $800,000 from the Cable Beach store equipment sale, effectively refuting the claims made by the employees to the Supreme Court.
“The trust [staff pension fund] has already been paid the amount for its equipment,” he told Tribune Business then. “They were paid around $800,000. The rest of it is mainly for legal and other costs, and also some bills and so forth that need to be covered.”
However, Whanslaw Turnquest, the spokesman for a number of former City Markets employees in their ongoing dispute over the pension fund and other benefits, told Tribune Business they were having difficulty in locating the current and former trustees.
“They’ve gone to ground,” he told Tribune Business, adding that he did not know how much money had been raised by the pension fund from the bond and equipment sales.
Documents seen previously by Tribune Business confirmed that the Cable Beach store equipment sale was likely to generate $800,000, while the pension fund had $300,000 in bonds on its balance sheet.
Malissa Saunders, a member of staff for attorney James Thompson, alleged earlier this year: “The retirement plan owns three bonds valued at approximately $300,000, and from the said report the retirement plan owns refrigeration equipment, which I am informed is the subject of a sale at a consideration of $800,000.
“I am informed by the said James Thompson that the said bonds have been redeemed and are available for distribution among the pensioners, and that the proceeds from the sale of the said equipment may also be ready for distribution.”
Ms Saunders conceded, though, that this had not been confirmed. He comments were based on a forensic accounting report on the pension fund, for the seven months to end-January 2012, that was conducted by auditor John Bain.
Mr Turnquest yesterday confirmed: “We are trying to serve summoneses upon all the trustees to get the money from the sale of the equipment which had been purchased by the pension fund.
“As of today, all the former City Markets employees and their families are boycotting Super Value until the money from the Cable Beach store equipment sale is paid.”
Suggesting that a collective $2.8 million was owed to more than 350 former City Markets workers in severance pay and other benefits, Mr Turnquest added: “We are also demanding all monies owed to the employees.
“The banks are putting a lot of pressure on the employees. All the employees are very tired of this dilemma they are in.
“Their financial bills are at the top of the hill. It’s like an iceberg coming on top of your head.
“The employees have lost faith in the court system; there’s no justice for the small man, no justice at all. They are taking action into the own hands, looking at different ways to put pressure on.”
The City Markets’ employee pension fund invested $3 million in a sale-and-leaseback deal that saw it purchase store equipment and improvements in the Cable Beach outlet from the troubled supermarket chain, in a deal that provided much needed cash flow and liquidity.
That deal was heavily criticised at the time, and the pension fund’s main asset remains the former City Markets headquarters and warehouse building located on East-West Highway.
In an interview earlier this year, Mr Finlayson said the sale of City Markets’ leasehold interests in three store sites to Super Value had been completed, but there was “less than $2 million” for creditors - his family and former staff - to fight over.
The sale of City Markets’ leasehold interests in four store sites to Super Value had initially been a $5 million deal, but after Harbour Bay was lost it became a $3.5 million transaction involving the Cable Beach, South Beach and Prince Charles Shopping Centre locations.
All three are now open under Mr Roberts’ Quality Supermarkets brand, but Mr Finlayson told Tribune Business that out of the $3.5 million gross deal proceeds, less than $2 million would be left to cover the multi-million dollar sums owed to his family and former staff.