A judge in England has ordered that accounting firm Wilkins Kennedy pays US$11.6 million to Harlequin Property (SVG) Ltd., owners of Buccament Bay Resort.
The sum represents half of the amount that the firm overpaid to ICE Group (SVG) Ltd., a contracting firm that worked on the resort between 2008 and 2010.
But Harlequin might not receive any of the funds, as the judge, Justice Coulson, said in a ruling in the United Kingdom on Monday that he “would not want that sum paid direct to Harlequin Property SVG, at least at this stage.
“My proposal is to have it paid into some sort of escrow account whilst the competing interests of the company, the liquidators (if they have been appointed) and, in particular, the investors are resolved. I would hope that this –or something like it — can be done by way of agreement,” the judge ruled.
The Serious Fraud Office in the United Kingdom is investigating Harlequin and a number of Vincentian nationals and businesses have brought lawsuits against the company.
They join other investors from Europe and elsewhere who have filed claims against the company, which has failed to complete the Buccament Bay resort or build similar tourism establishments in the Caribbean as it said it would have done.
Harlequin, which has been having problems paying workers at Buccament Bay Resort in St. Vincent, could have been awarded twice the amount.
“… I have concluded that Harlequin were prima facie entitled to loss and damage in the sum of $23,261,941 pursuant to Claim 1, being the amount of the overpayment to ICE less an allowance for the cost of the valuation process,” the judge said and rejected all other claims.
He, however, said that Harlequin was negligent, and he, therefore, reduced by 50 per cent the sum he would otherwise have awarded.
Justice Coulson said that the evidence is that Dave Ames, manager of Harlequin, “received advice about the importance of a valuation process from a number of different sources…
“What is more, Mr. Ames appeared to understand the need for payments to reflect what had actually been done but did not check that this was happening,” Justice Colson said.
He described as “wishful thinking” Ames’ belief that somehow this was being done by Martin MacDonald, a partner in Wilkins Kennedy, and Ryder Levett Bucknall, a cost management and quantity surveying, project management and advisory services company.
“So the failure to ensure that there was a contractually-binding valuation process was, at least in part, his responsibility too,” the judge ruled.
Ames, a Britain-born, naturalised Vincentian businessman, fled St. Vincent in June on a go-fast pirogue as prosecutor scooped in on him on tax evasion and theft charges amounting to some EC$7 million.
His lawyers have since written to the courts in Kingstown saying he is too ill to travel, and the hearing has been adjourned to February 2017.
In the case against Wilkins Kennedy, the judge concluded that whilst ICE was paid $50,524,663, the proper valuation of their work was no more than $24,784,293.
Wilkins Kennedy acted as Harlequin’s accountant and business advisor between 2006 and 2010.
The case had hearings in June, July and September, in Europe and in St. Vincent, where the British High Court sat for one week to hear testimony from Vincentian and other witnesses.