By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) leader yesterday said the allegations made by the group at the centre of the Renward Wells Letter of Intent (LOI) controversy threaten “to turn foreign investors away from the Bahamas”.
Branville McCartney told Tribune Business that the claims made by Stellar Energy, in its $727.364 million action against Mr Wells and other defendants, “raise questions as to how our government does business with foreign companies”.
Stellar Energy’s legal filings allege that it was required to deal with persons holding themselves out as “agents” or representatives of the Christie administration, who promised they could facilitate all the necessary approvals for its proposed $650 million waste-to-energy plant.
After adopting their suggestions to appoint certain persons to posts with Stellar Energy, and enter into “partnerships” and “joint venture agreements” over the project, the group said it felt “forced” into these arrangements - including the now-notorious LOI.
Stellar then alleged that the LOI was leaked as part of “a conspiracy” against it, with “clear intent at the Government level to sabotage the project”.
Mr McCartney, while emphasising that his Halsbury Chambers law firm had never represented Stellar Energy over the LOI, told Tribune Business he wished it had done so.
Refuting suggestions that this would have created a ‘conflict of interest’, the DNA leader said he was directly informed by Stellar executives that they could not hire Halsbury Chambers.
Mr McCartney said they informed him that they had to instead use a law firm with connections to the governing party if the project was to have any chance of proceeding.
The DNA leader told Tribune Business that the situation recalled his law firm’s loss, under a previous PLP administration, of the contract to represent Bahamasair because he needed to be “more PLP-inclined”.
“It raises questions as to how our government does business with foreign investors,” Mr McCartney told Tribune Business of Stellar’s allegations.
“I use it from a local standpoint, and give an example, of my firm not being able to represent that company [Stellar] because the Government, the PLP, insisted that they get another firm to represent them; one with connections to the governing party.”
Asked how he knew this, Mr McCartney replied: “They told me that. Stellar told me that. They said: ‘Bran, sorry, but this is what we have to do to have even a chance of getting our foot in the door’.
“I wish I had represented Stellar. They keep throwing up in my face that we had represented Stellar in the LOI deal.
“The reason we failed to represent them, and I see nothing wrong with representing them, was that they were told they needed a PLP firm to be involved with representing Stellar.”
Mr McCartney said the episode was similar to how Halsbury Chambers lost the contract to act as outside counsel for Bahamasair, the national flag carrier.
The DNA leader said the business loss stemmed from his attendance at a function, before he entered politics, where he was photographed with Tommy Turnquest and other FNM members.
“This reminds me, before I got into frontline politics, of how my firm represented Bahamasair many years ago,” he told Tribune Business.
“After the function, I got a call from persons from Bahamasair stating that I must be more PLP inclined. I answered: You hired me as an attorney, not a politician.
“I went to a political function, but I was not in frontline politics at the time. I was told that if I continued to act in that regard, there will be consequences. There were consequences: They fired my firm.”
Mr McCartney said he then attended a Christmas Bar Association luncheon, where a former senior PLP official told him how he was the person who signed the document firing the DNA leader’s law firm.
“I saw him at this function, and he had a big cigar in his mouth and was sipping rum,” Mr McCartney recalled. “He came up to me and said: ‘I signed the note for you to be fired’.”
The tables were turned, though, when Mr McCartney was elected to Parliament and initially became junior minister of tourism in the 2007-2012 Ingraham administration, with responsibility for Bahamasair.
“I saw him in a Chinese restaurant, probably on Bay Street,” the DNA leader said of the ex-PLP official. “I said to him: ‘What y’all did to me will never happen under my watch’.”
Mr McCartney divulged the former senior PLP official’s name, but Tribune Business has elected for legal reasons not to publish it.
“I use that as an example in this LOI matter,” the DNA leader said, referring to Stellar. “The PLP government’s attitude was that you either do it that way and become part of us, or to hell with you. The same thing happened with respect to Stellar.
“This is what turns foreign investors away from this country; this same thing.”