RIPEL hits back at questions over $1.5M payout

By Alfred Sasako

The controversial $1.5 million in hard cash that is the focus of questions.

THE Chairman of the Lavukal Trust Board, Oliver Salopuka, has refuted claims that $1.5 million in dividends paid out to the Lavukal tribe members over the weekend was done in secret.

Mr Salopuka was responding to media claims attributed to the Savo/Russell MP and the Chairman of the Cabinet Sub-committee on RIPEL, Hon Dickson Mua, that the Government knew nothing about the payment.

Hon Mua also accused Lavukal landowners of breaching the terms of an MOU, which the Chiefs of the tribal group signed last.

“That MOU prohibited Lavukal landowners of any dealings with businessman Mr Patrick Wong and former RIPEL workers,” Hon Mua said.

Russell Islands’ tribal leader, Silas Selo, also questioned the payment saying there are sinister motive behind it.

“It is all politically motivated,” Mr Selo said.

But Mr Salopuka has hit back, saying there was nothing secret about the $1.5 million dividend payout.

“There is nothing secret about the payment. And the Government is not involved. LSL is a private company and it does not need to consult SIG when paying dividends or any company matter,” an angry Mr Salopuka told Island Sun yesterday.

“The fact of the matter is that LSL has budgeted for tax on the dividends LSL paid out on the weekend. What the likes of Hon Mua and Mr Selo forget is the fact that tax is only paid after IRD assessment,” Mr Salopuka said.

“The other thing people making these wild and baseless accusations forget is the fact that LSL and RIPEL are private entities. And we, not only are we directors of the Company but are shareholders as well,” he said.

Mr Salopuka also refuted claims that the MOU signed recently between the Government and the Lavukal representatives stopped landowners from dealing with Mr Wong and others.

“There is absolutely nothing in the MOU on this matter,” Mr Salopuka said. Mr Salopuka produced a copy, signed by the deputy Prime Minister and Salopuka said, “here. Show me where does it say Lavukal cannot talk to the Company or Wong. This is just a makeup story by Honourable Mua, to take away focus on other problems he is now facing”

Meanwhile businessman and architect of the RIPEL settlement, Mr Patrick Wong also reacted angrily about the MOU claim.

“As a company director, we know nothing about the MOU. And we are not a signatory to it either,” Mr Wong told Island Sun last night.

“If it is true, then I call on the Lavukal landowners and all ex-workers to immediately disassociate themselves from this part of the MOU,” Mr Wong said.

“If there is such a clause that prohibits associating with me, then I call on them to come out and say so publicly that they are not part of the MOU.”

Mr Wong said a lot of questions surround the signing of the MOU. First, it was signed at 9:30pm on a Saturday night. Secondly, the signing was done on the eve of the Court of Appeal on Monday 1st October, which RIPEL and LSL have subsequently won. Is there something inside this MoU SIG was going to do and take sides with John Whiteside?

“Sadly, RIPEL as a company in the centre of all these, is not a signatory to the MOU. So from the start, the MOU has no leg to stand on. I have my own interpretation for this event but that can be explained at some other time,” Mr Wong said.

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