Lawyer course

Suspicious that BVIPA instantly fires lawyer who reported Patsy Lake rental

Pasea Square

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

He expressed this sentiment in the report of his Commission of Inquiry (COI) which was recently made public.

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

General counsel, Natalie Sandiford-Francis, who was reportedly recruited by BVIPA chief executive Lenius Lendor, was then asked to review the lease.

According to the report, Sandiford-Francis then returned to BVIPA Chairman of the Board, Nathaniel Isaac, on July 30, 2019, with “pre-contract investigations/due diligence requests” and was instructed to write to the leasing company – VOP Investments Company Limited – with its demands.

On August 1, the lawyer was informed that the council wanted to proceed with the rental transaction as soon as possible.

She then reportedly searched the Land Registry and the Corporate Business Registry as part of her due diligence.

The memo

In a memo dated Aug. 8, 2019, to the lender, the attorney questioned the correct name of the leasing company and asked if they 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 be taken, including confirming whether any member of BVIPA’s board or senior management had an interest in the transaction.

The report says Lendor described receiving the memo late on a Friday as “very vivid in my mind” before providing it to the board.

But according to Lendor, this note “did not seem to be well received”.

The COI report further noted that a special meeting was convened the following Monday after that weekend and at that meeting the board decided to return the position of General Counsel, which at the time only existed for eight months, “superfluous with immediate effect”. .

The lender told the COI that there was no further discussion of the memorandum thereafter.

The lawyer’s dismissal was ‘acute’ in its timing

Meanwhile Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom said he did not have enough information to determine why the Commission dismissed the lawyer.

“It is of course possible that this decision has nothing to do with the Advocate General’s memorandum. But the timing is acute; and at least raises the suspicion that it might be a curious reaction to legal advice,” Sir Gary said in the report.

He suggested that the broader point on the matter was whether all statutory boards have protocols in place to ensure that before entering into a commercial lease, due diligence exercises are carried out to the same extent as that undertaken by the BVI government.

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