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Was the nexus between Lever Solomon Ltd [lsl ] and ripel a pathway to deception?

WE may never gain full understanding of what goes on behind the scene over the so-called takeover of the Russell Islands Plantation Estates Ltd (RIPEL), its relationship with other entities such as Lever’s Plantation Ltd and so on.

Everything it seems is subject to who one talks to and indeed their interpretations of events.

The issues relating to RIPEL are so deep and cluttered that the government, under Derek Sikua’s administration, set up a commission of inquiry a few years ago, to get to the bottom of things. That attempt failed from the start.

For example, the inquiry came to grief after serious allegations of misuse of public funds surfaced. Nothing more was heard on either the inquiry or the subsequent internal investigation on the alleged misuse of public funds to run the inquiry.

The latest attempt to clear the air and prepare RIPEL for potential investors was the formation of a Cabinet Sub-committee, chaired by the MP for Savo/Russell Hon Dickson Mua Panakitasi.

Committee members are due to end their week-long tour of the Russell Islands this weekend. Their visit is to gauge the views of the people there after foreign businessman Patrick Wong’s takeover plans went horribly wrong.

The Australian businessman of Malaysian origin was subsequently barred from entering the country. Under scrutiny, his claim of ownership of RIPEL is increasingly becoming questionable.

In 2010/2011for example the Central Bank of Solomon Islands stepped in to block government’s attempt to pay off RIPEL for SBD26 million. This was because there was no evidence Mr Wong had brought in any money into the country.

Subsequent investigations have revealed other interesting facts. For example, official documents obtained by Island Sun show the approval granted to Mr Wong’s International Comtrade & Shipping (SI) Ltd was cancelled in July 2007.

The decision was conveyed in writing to the Director of Overseas Shipping, Trading & Investment Pty Ltd, c/- P.O Box 1815, Honiara.

The company’s Certificate of Registration was also cancelled, citing Section 20 of the Investment Act 2005, ref. Section 18(1) and 19(4) for the action.

“… that the approval granted to you under the repealed Act, “to hold 15.1% shares in RIPEL and LSL” is not a specific investment activity under the Foreign Investment Act 2005.”

The Rejection of Registration Certificate was dated 17th July 2007.

In his letter dated 16th July 2007, then Registrar of Foreign Investment, Derick Aihari, gave four grounds for the cancellation of the earlier approval. He wrote:

“The reason(s) for taking th(ese) action(s) are:

  • Your company has not complied with condition 10.2 of your Certificate of approval under the repealed Act to formalise the restructure of RIPEL with the Registrar of Companies. Records showed that this was not done properly and there was no confirmation from RIPEL/LSL Management of issuing of appropriate shares to operate these companies as ICSL (SI) Ltd;
  • Since June 2004, you ceased operation and remained inactive, which has proved that you are incapable and lack the management ability to invest in RIPEL;
  • Investment Corporation of Solomon Islands, a legal entity who supposedly should manage the investment on behalf of the government shares in RIPEL has confirmed ICSI non-involvement in any of shareholding transactions, which indicate that RIPEL has been run on Adhoc basis;
  • That your company was approved as a shareholder company of RIPEL under the repealed Act and not as a stand-alone entity investing in a specific investment activity; (and),
  • Your company’s inability to make sound management decisions has resulted in holding at ransom the economic recovery of Solomon Islands and providing of the necessary employment for its citizens.”

Senior government officials familiar with the case said although Mr Wong was invited to use his privilege under section 27 in appealing the decision, no action was taken.

It was not until sometime in 2015 that attempts were made to register RIPEL. Today, RIPEL remains unregistered, which means its shares cannot be traded.

Next week, Island Sun looks at the beginning Lever’s Plantation Ltd, who is behind it in terms of ownership and the evolution that gave birth to RIPEL and its players – government officials and businessmen – a deadly cocktail in anyone’s standard, especially when the colour of money determines the outcome.