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Wells Loi Battle: 'It's Finished Now'

Transport Minister Renward Wells.

Transport Minister Renward Wells.

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A $727.364m damages claim against Renward Wells and others was yesterday branded as "finished" after the firm at the centre of the Letter of Intent (LOI) controversy withdrew its appeal.

Gregory Moss, the now-Cabinet minister's attorney, told Tribune Business there was little prospect that Stellar Energy would be able to revive its action against his client and the co-defendants, Algernon Allen and Frank Forbes, who the company alleged had acted as government "agents" in its bid to develop a waste-to-energy plant at the New Providence landfill.

Mr Moss, also a former PLP MP, said Stellar Energy's attorneys filed the "notice of withdrawal of appeal" this Tuesday just prior to the case's scheduled hearing that same day. He said the move came after they realised Mr Wells and his co-defendants had a strong case for why the dispute should be dismissed.

"I regard that as being effectively the end of the matter," he told Tribune Business. "I don't see how there could possibly be any further grounds of appeal." Mr Moss said Stellar Energy's attorneys had indicated they would look to re-file an appeal, but he argued it was difficult to see how there could be any "substance" to such a move.

Tribune Business was unable to contact Stellar Energy's attorneys, Osman and Rengin Johnson, and their firm, Ayse Rengin Dengizer Johnson, for comment prior to press time last night.

However, legal documents obtained by Tribune Business show Mr Wells and his attorney arguing that the case be dismissed on technical grounds because Stellar Energy had failed to follow the correct legal procedures for getting permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal.

The appeal's meek withdrawal is a marked change from the bullish April 2019 statement issued by Stellar Energy's attorneys, in which they pledged to appeal on the company's behalf and "shed light on all that has transpired" under the former Christie administration - including Mr Wells' resignation from his then-post as parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Works.

Stellar Energy's appeal had sought to challenge a ruling by Carol Misiewicz, the Supreme Court's deputy registrar, who found that the company and its affiliates were "from any angle unable to sustain an action" against Mr Wells, Mr Allen and his law firm, and Mr Forbes' firm, Sigma Management, "on the basis of the LOI".

She determined that the LOI, the signing of which forced Mr Wells' from the Christie administration, "was not binding in law" and represented "a discussion document" rather than a completed contract.

The deputy registrar also branded Stellar Energy's claims against Mr Allen, himself a former Cabinet minister, and Mr Forbes, a businessman and accountant, as "bad" given that they were not parties to the now-notorious LOI.

Ruling that Stellar Energy had "not been able to overcome the hurdles presented by the LOI", Ms Misiewicz said Mr Wells - despite signing it - was not a party to its terms.

"In any event the LOI, for whatever it was worth, automatically expired one year from the date of its execution, which was on July 3, 2015," the deputy registrar found. "It was a discussion document, subject to contract and was not binding in law. Approached from any angle, the plaintiffs [Stellar] are unable to sustain an action on the basis of the LOI."

Turning to Stellar's claim against Messrs Allen and Forbes, Ms Misiewicz agreed with their attorney, Damien Gomez QC, that the allegations against the duo were "contradictory" and they were also not parties to the LOI. "I am satisfied that [Stellar] does not gave a good arguable case against any of the defendants, but in particular does not have a case against" them," she said.

Mr Wells, who is currently minister of transport and local government, became embroiled in controversy in mid-July 2014 when the Stellar LOI was leaked to the media and he was accused of signing it on the Government's behalf without the proper authorisation.

He eventually departed his parliamentary secretary post some 80-90 days later, but Tribune Business later obtained evidence suggesting that - as indicated by Mr Wells' close colleague, former MP Dr Andre Rollins said - the whole affair was a "manufactured political controversy".

This newspaper obtained a May 26, 2014, letter written by Michael Halkitis, then-minister of state for finance, to the Inter-American Development Bank's (IDB) Bahamas country representative stating that "the Government has issued an initial LOI" to Stellar Energy.

That letter was dated some five to six weeks BEFORE Mr Wells signed the LOI, suggesting key members of the Christie Cabinet knew of its existence in advance and of the Government's intentions - at least at that point - to sign it. There is nothing, though, to suggest Mr Halkitis did anything wrong.

All involved with the Stellar LOI and subsequent court case, along with both major political parties, are likely to welcome the latest legal developments given their eagerness to put the matter behind them. The FNM took "ownership" of the matter when Mr Wells swapped sides to join it, yet to this day neither he nor anyone else involved has explained to the Bahamian people exactly what happened.

Stellar Energy's original statement of claim laid out multiple allegations. It described Messrs Allen and Forbes as government "agents" who promised then-prime minister Perry Christie would arrange a $40m guarantee for the project, and bragged: "We hold the key to the kingdom."

The waste-to-energy group's allegations placed Mr Christie and now-PLP leader, Philip Davis, at the centre of events leading up to the LOI's disclosure and subsequent political firestorm although nothing has emerged to suggest they were guilty of any wrongdoing.

Arguing that the LOI's leaking showed "clear intent at the Government level to sabotage" the $600m project, Stellar claimed Mr Allen, the former Urban Renewal co-chair, and Mr Forbes were "two of the private individuals who claimed to be representatives of the Bahamas government and/or agents acting for and on behalf of the Bahamas government".

Comments

Well_mudda_take_sic 4 months ago

The FNM took "ownership" of the matter when Mr Wells swapped sides to join it, yet to this day neither he nor anyone else involved has explained to the Bahamian people exactly what happened.

There's only one take away from this saga:

Wells, having found that he could not extort Christie and therefore would never be able to
partake in any inner circle PLP pie sharing, decided he had nothing to lose when Minnis promised him he would be able to partake in pie sharing of the FNM inner circle if and when the FNM became the next government. Wells's defection gamble paid off.

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