Kuku: we should not deal with bankrupt companies

Hon. John Dean Kuku
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The Leader of the Independent Group in Parliament has cautioned the Government against working with two bankrupt companies in Australia.

In a statement yesterday, John Dean Kuku says while he is happy to see the government working to resolve outstanding issues with Levers Solomon Ltd (LSL), he strongly cautions against dealing with Orbis Commodities Pty Ltd and Pacific Investments Holdings.

These two companies, owned by Willem Van Vlymen and his spouse Margriet Van Vlymen,  have been undergoing bankruptcy proceedings in Australia since 2017.

“It must be noted that Orbis and Pacific do not hold any legal title over any LSL or RIPEL land and properties in Solomon Islands, nor are they registered shareholders of LSL or RIPEL according to Company Haus records,” Kuku said.

His statement followed an article in the Island Sun newspaper that the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister Robson Djokovic and the Attorney General John Muria Jnr are dealing with these companies through a Deed of Company Arrangement (DOCA) in order to acquire LSL and RIPEL properties in Solomon Islands.

Kuku explained:

“Orbis and Pacific Investments Holdings are connected to Pacific Investments, a third company registered in the Cook Islands, which is also under bankruptcy since 2017.

“On Company Haus records, Pacific Investments was under an appointed Receiver Manager from 15th March 2017.

“Through Pacific Investments, the Vlymens hold 50 percent shares in International Comtrade & Shipping (SI) Limited who holds 75.1% shares in both LSL and RIPEL.

“The remaining 24.9% shares are held by Lavukal Investment Limited.”

Kuku said it appears that the government has now shifted from its 2019 policy position, citing the OPMC statement in the Island Sun on Monday 9th April confirming that negotiations to acquire LSL only commenced in July 2021.

“In my recollection, in 2019 the government, through the RIPEL Cabinet Subcommittee mooted the idea of pursuing cross sectoral opportunities in development on areas that are not owned by Patrick Wong (the other shareholder in International Comtrade), LSL or RIPEL.

“In other words, LSL and RIPEL were to be excluded from the government’s proposal to develop areas that are free of LSL or RIPEL ownership.

“This is the preferred option because it circumvents any company liabilities and/or land related encumbrances.

“This begs the question whether the government has now abandoned that policy or is this yet another clever diversification of the same policy?

“It also raises questions on the status of the MOU signed in 2019 between the government and Russell Islands Investment Forum (RIIF), and the Central Islands Province under the previous policy.”

Setting aside the fact that Orbis and Pacific Investments Holdings do not hold any legitimate shares in LSL, hence do not own any properties in Solomon Islands, Kuku calls on the government to “clarify which LSL properties are to be acquired by the government under its proposed DOCA and what is the total value of those properties?”

“It is clear the DOCA deal would only serve the Vlymens beneficial interests above anything else.

“So what then is the ultimate aim of the DOCA and how does it benefit the Solomon Islands government?

“Is the government aiming to own shares in LSL and RIPEL (including liabilities) or is it only interested in acquiring the assets (excluding liabilities)?”

“If the government is only interested in acquiring land, then the DOCA is simply untenable and should be immediately abandoned,” Kuku said.

Court documents in the NSW Supreme Court revealed that the DOCA proposed by the Solomon Islands Government was “thought to be between AUD$15 million (SBD$83 million) and AUD$20 million (SBD$110,674,600), which would be enough to pay off all creditors of Orbis and Pacific Holdings in full.”

Kuku said:

“The Attorney General’s letter that recently appeared in the media has financial implications on the 2022 Budget though it did not appear in the Appropriation which immediately raises a series of questions on how the government is going to finance the arrangement.   

“There are better ways of dealing with the policy than the government’s present strategy of entering into negotiations with bankrupt foreign companies.

“It is no different to rioting and looting our national coffers.”