By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Leslie Miller yesterday accused Bank of The Bahamas and the government of an "unlawful conspiracy" to seize his shopping plaza, and demanded nearly $10m in damages from each.
The former Cabinet minister and MP, in a legal action filed with the Supreme Court, claimed both the BISX-listed bank and the former Christie administration reneged on agreements to fund multi-million dollar renovations to his family's Summerwinds Plaza so it could be rented to government ministries.
Besides claiming damages for the loss of multi-million dollar rental income through these purported contractual breaches, Mr Miller also accused the Minnis administration of "malice" and victimisation because he is a member of its Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) opposition.
He alleged that it deliberately refused to follow through on the leases signed by its predecessor knowing it "would trigger a default" on $25-$28m worth of loans owed to Bank of The Bahamas (BOB), thereby paving the way for the bank and the Bahamas Resolve bail-out vehicle to seize control of the Tonique Williams Highway plaza.
Mr Miller claims that BOB served him with a default notice just five days after the May 10 general election. In particular, he targets Marlon Johnson, acting financial secretary in the Ministry of Finance, who is also Bahamas Resolve's secretary, describing him as "a nemesis" who frequently attacked Mr Miller during his role as a "Free National Movement activist" on the campaign trail.
The outspoken ex-MP's claim also confirms Tribune Business's revelation that Bahamas Resolve and its managers, Deloitte & Touche, have appointed a receiver who is now running both the Miller family's Mario's Bowling and Family Entertainment Palace venture and the plaza as they bid to sell it and recover the outstanding loan.
But Mr Miller and his attorney, Damian Gomez QC, the former minister of state for legal affairs, are seeking a Supreme Court injunction to block any sale of the Summerwinds Plaza. They are alleging that his constitutional rights to private property and freedom of expression have been breached, or threatened, by the combined actions of the Government and bank.
"The matters set out herof constitute an unlawful conspiracy to dispossess the plaintiffs and each of them of the said Summerwinds complex through the unlawful withholding of sums due to the said plaintiffs and each of them by the Government of the Bahamas, and its control over and abuse of power in relation to the first and third defendants," Mr Miller's lawsuit alleged, referring to BOB and Bahamas Resolve.
The Government owns more than 80 per cent of BOB through the Treasury and National Insurance Board (NIB), and Mr Miller continued: "Essentially, the Government of the Bahamas has purported through its own wrongdoing to profit by the use of the first and third defendants at the expense of the plaintiffs and each of them.
"The Government deliberately refused to pay monies due under the five leases dated December 1, 2016, with the intention to trigger a default on the part of the plaintiffs and each of them in respect of their respective loans with" BOB.
Bahamas Resolve, the vehicle to which BOB's "toxic" loans have been transferred, has already advertised the Summerwinds Plaza for sale to interested buyers via a newspaper advertisement in the Friday, June 29, edition of The Tribune.
Moving to ensure this goes no further, Mr Miller alleges in his 'statement of claim' that the House of Assembly allowed him, via a January 15, 2013, resolution to negotiate the lease of his Summerwinds Plaza to the Government for "the purpose of providing offices to various ministries".
He claimed that two lease agreements were signed in summer 2013, which "required significant renovations and structural work to be effected" at the property to ensure it met the Government's requirements.
Mr Miller and his companies sought to finance these upgrades with a loan from BOB, which it allegedly agreed to do by extending $2.5 million secured by a further "upstamping" of its existing mortgage secured on Summerwinds Plaza.
But, after advancing an initial $185,000, Mr Miller accused the BISX-listed bank of reneging on its loan commitment in the final week of October 2013. This left him unable to complete the necessary renovations, and the Government "repudiated" the lease deals as a result.
Refusing to give up, the former MP secured five new lease agreements with the Government on December 1, 2016, following "lengthy negotiations" between himself on one side and the former Christie administration and BOB on the other.
This time, the $4.787 million financing for the upgrades was to come directly from the Government, not BOB, with this commitment included in the five lease deals. This arrangement is also described as "necessary" for BOB to "continue its loan facilities" with Mr Miller and his companies.
Mr Miller, though, alleged that he suffered a repeat of his treatment by BOB, with the Government just advancing $344,802 of the $4.787 million required to make the plaza suitable its ministries.
With the Government refusing to pay rental income Mr Miller claimed was due, just five days after the election, he received BOB's 'notice of default' demanding repayment of the entire outstanding loan balance owed on the Summerwinds Plaza.
Unable to meet their obligations without the rental income allegedly due from the Government, Mr Miller and his companies eventually saw their loan transferred to Bahamas Resolve as part of BOB's second shedding of "toxic" debt.
The receiver's appointment followed on April 9, 2018, with the Summerwinds Plaza advertised for sale in late June. Mr Miller alleges this was "part of a wider malicious and unlawful scheme to injure" himself and his family, and their companies.
Singling out Mr Johnson as someone who made "vitriolic attacks" on him prior to his appointment to a government post, Mr Miller alleged that the acting financial secretary advertised the Summerwinds Plaza for sale at an FNM branch meeting in the Freetown constituency.
Separately, the former Cabinet minister also hit out at the alleged leaking of his confidential banking/financial information, suggesting this also represented part of a campaign being waged against him by the FNM. He added that this had damaged his reputation, and caused him "much embarrassment, distress and grief".
Mr Miller then slammed Bahamas Resolve for mixing "the performing loan facility" of his daughter, Leslia Miller-Brice, with the debt secured on the Summerwinds Plaza. He claimed the bail-out vehicle had admitted there was "no justification" for that, but has not altered its stance.
With negotiations with the Attorney General's office proving fruitless, Mr Miller is seeking damages of $9.643 million and $9.847 million from BOB and the Government, respectively.
Most of these sums, $9.118 million and $8.476 million, is for loss of rental income the former Cabinet minister claims was due on the Government's leases, with the balance for monies invested in the renovations.
Mr Miller is now seeking a Supreme Court declaration that the five leases entered into on December 1, 2016, are "valid and binding" upon the Government. He also wants a declaration that there has been an "unlawful conspiracy" against him.