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Saturday, May 21, 2022

COI: Suspicious that BVIPA instantly fires lawyer who flagged Patsy Lake rental

COI: Suspicious that BVIPA instantly fires lawyer who flagged Patsy Lake rental

Commissioner of Inquiry, Sir Gary Hickinbottom has found it suspicious that an attorney with the BVI Ports Authority (BVIPA) was sacked with immediate effect in 2019 after drafting a memorandum which addressed a potential conflict between the Port Authority’s Board and a lease for the Patsy Lake-owned Pasea Place. Lake was a prominent board member of the Ports Authority at the time.

He expressed that sentiment in his Commission of Inquiry (COI) report that was recently released to the public.

According to the report, a quote for the leasing of Pasea Place for commercial space was received from the company on July 25, 2019, and the Board agreed to start the lease on August 1, 2019.

General Counsel, Natalie Sandiford-Francis, who was reportedly brought in by then BVIPA Managing Director Lenius Lendor, was then asked to review the lease.

According to the report, Sandiford-Francis next reverted to then BVIPA Board Chairman, Nathaniel Isaac, on July 30, 2019, with “pre-contract inquiries/due diligence requisitions” and was instructed to write to the leasing company – VOP Investments Company Limited – with her inquiries.

By August 1, the attorney was instructed that the Board wished to proceed with the lease transaction as soon as possible.

She then reportedly did searches with both the Land Registry and Corporate Affairs registry as part of her due diligence.

The memo


In a memo dated August 8, 2019, and addressed to Lendor, the attorney questioned the correct name of the leasing company and asked whether it could actually lease the property since it appeared to be owned by Patsy Lake.

According to the COI report, Sandiford-Francis then proposed that a number of steps are taken, including confirming if any member of the BVIPA Board or senior management had an interest in the transaction.

The report said Lendor described receiving this memo late on a Friday as “very vivid in my mind“ before providing it to the Board.

But according to Lendor, that memo “didn’t appear to be well-received“.

The COI report further noted that a special meeting was convened the next Monday after that weekend and at that meeting, the Board resolved to make the post of General Counsel, which at the time had only existed for eight months, ‘redundant with immediate effect’.

Lendor told the COI that there was no further discussion on the memorandum afterwards.

Lawyer’s firing was ‘acute’ in its timing


Meanwhile, Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom said he didn’t have sufficient information to determine why the Board made the lawyer redundant.

“It is of course possible that this decision was entirely unconnected with the General Counsel‘s memorandum. But the timing is acute; and at least raises a suspicion that it may have been a curious reaction to legal advice,” Sir Gary said in the report.

He suggested that the wider point on the issue was whether all statutory boards have protocols in place to ensure that before they enter into a commercial lease, due diligence exercises are performed to the same extent as that undertaken by the BVI government.

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