By Alfred Sasako
BUSINESSMAN Patrick Wong was given a choice – bring 80 Lavukal Chiefs to Honiara to discuss the future of Russell Islands Plantation Estates Ltd or fly down to Russell to show his face to the people there.
He chose the latter.
Within a week, arrangement was in place for the Lavukal people’s hero to visit – in style, according to director Oliver Salopuka.
Mr Salopuka told Island Sun on Monday that up to 500 people gathered at Marulaon Village in West Russell as Mr Wong and his fellow RIPEL and Levers Solomon Ltd directors flew in last Saturday morning, using an USD1, 000-an-hour a helicopter.
“Everyone was really happy to see Mr Wong. They wanted to hear him explain several things, including the payment of dividends. And he did and did it well,” Mr Salopuka said.
Others who attended the meeting said Mr Wong also explained what happened between him and Mr Wim Van Vlymen regarding the sale of his shares to Van Vlymen. It all centred around whether Mr Van Vlymen disclosed that he, on behalf of LSL, was in negotiations to sell Hell’s Point, after the Company won their Court of Appeal regarding the resumption of Lungga land and was expecting a large sum.
They recalled that during their negotiations in in 2014/2015, Mr Van Vlymen and John Whiteside never informed them about the Company getting large payout from the Government for the Hell’s Point land.
“The two gentlemen were never fully transparent with us,” they said.
“It is for this reason after now knowing that we have been tricked that the Lavukal people wanted to get their shares back,” they said.
Also, some have now heard that Mr Van Vlymen allegedly said in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, during cross explanation, that the MoU is just a Memorandum of Understanding and that, the Company has not made any commitment, as it was not a contract.
The crowd was also informed that this particular point was also mentioned in the 344/2017 case.
At the weekend gathering, Mr Salopuka expressed sorrow that in the beginning he and director, John Kapentana believed in Whiteside.
“But after giving the shares in October 2015, neither Whiteside nor Van Vlymen did anything for 18 months, till Mr Wong returned. They did not transfer the land, they did did nothing,” Mr Salopuka said.
“The question is – why didn’t they do it, as the shares were already transferred.”
“Everyone was nodding their heads, in agreement.”
At that point, Mr Wong simply said, HERE is the second part of the dividends and started taking out of two large bags bundles of Cash.
The crowd erupted in deafening shouts, according to others.
Mr Salopuka told Island Sun yesterday that those who opposed Lavukal tribal group are reconsidering their position on the appeal, which he said now stands in the way of paying the remaining $1.5 million in dividends.
Mr Wong reportedly told the crowd that if the Court of Appeal case was stopped, the outstanding dividend of $1.5 million would be paid within one to two weeks.
Meanwhile Mr Salopuka said the $498,000 in dividends paid out on the weekend was shared amongst 3, 768 Lavukal people including children from two years up.
“Each member of the tribe received $130 each. We did not stop sharing the money until Sunday,” he said.
Asked why such a large amount of payout was not invested in some business ventures, Mr Salopuka said the tribal chiefs have decided that the first payment should be shared.
“And that’s what we did,” he said.