GOV’T MOVES IN ON RIPEL

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Negotiates deal to bail out two bankrupt Austrian companies

LEAKED documents have suggested that the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Robson Djokovic and the Attorney General John Muria Jnr are cooking up a “dubious deal” in an attempt to commit the Government into bailing out two companies in Australia.

This is over the failed Russell and Tenaru plantation (RIPEL) formerly Levers Solomons Ltd.

The two companies, Orbis and Pacific Investments Holdings, are currently under bankruptcy proceedings in Australia.

Orbis and Pacific are owned by Willem and Margriet Van Vlymen.

The Van Vlymens appear to have been in a joint venture with entities owned by Patrick Wong in the controversial take-over of Levers by RIPEL some years back.

While their fight in the Australian court is over, their business interests has left the future of the plantations and the Solomon Islands creditors and the brawl between the Commissioner of Lands and RIPEL over company land in limbo.

Documents showed that on 1 July 2021, court administrators in Australia received correspondence from SV Partners, a professional insolvency firm, advising that they had been approached by the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands Government via a local barrister.

SV Partners advised that the Solomon Islands Government “is looking to acquire unspecified number of Levers properties in Solomon Islands through a proposed Deed of Company Arrangement (DOCA) with Orbis and Pacific.

Documents show the proposed offer under the Solomon Islands DOCA was between AUD$15 million ($120 million) and AUD$20 million ($160 million), which would be enough to pay all creditors of Orbis and Pacific in full.

On 5 August 2021, the Ministry of Finance and Treasury of the Solomon Islands Government wrote to the administrators, expressing an interest in acquiring the land owned by Lever Solomon’s through the DOCA process, but noting that any proposal would have to be approved by the Cabinet.

The documents showed on 20 August 2021, the Chief of Staff persuaded the Attorney General to write to the administrators, estimating that a minimum of three months was required to finalise a DOCA proposal for the approval of Cabinet.

On 23 August 2021, the administrators held a telephone conference with the Attorney General, a representative of the Ministry of Finance and Treasury and Djokovic and discussed the proposed DOCA being formulated in the Solomon Islands and how long that would take.

At that point in time, Djokovic, Muria and Dentana indicated that AUD$14 million was being considered.

On 9th February 2022, the Attorney General John Muria wrote a letter to Steve Agosta, Solicitor Director of Nelson McKinnon Lawyers in Sydney, requesting a further extension of the court proceedings to June 2022.

In his letter the AG stated a number of events that has impacted on the ability of the Solomon Islands Government to finalize the DOCA.

These events included the entry and community transmission of COVID 19, the motion of no-confidence in November and the riots.

But government sources say the AG’s letter has raised the question as to who authorised him to write the letter without Cabinet’s approval and why the need to interfere with the legal process in Australia.

Sources have questioned why the PM’s chief of staff and the AG would enter into a financial commitment without Cabinet’s approval.

“Why should SIG bail out Orbis and Pacific Investments Holdings?

“These two companies are under bankruptcy proceedings in Australia.

“What liabilities do these bankrupt companies have?

“The DOCA implies that SIG is paying off company debts in exchange for company shares?

“If SIG is interested in buying properties only, why not deal directly with LSL and RIPEL?” sources questioned.

“It is clear from the documents cited that the involvement of these government officials had no Cabinet mandate thus raising the question as to whose authority do they make that commitment.

“The commitment made by Djokovic and AG on behalf of the Government without Cabinet’s approval has raised a lot of questions especially trying to bail out two companies that are currently under bankruptcy proceedings.

“The involvement of Djokovic who has a history with controversial issues who also has criminal convictions in Australia raised the question as to whose interests he is making that commitment,” sources said.

Comments are being sought from Djokovic and Muria.


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