Pique oil: the yoga guru and the Caribbean lawsuit
A very Irish drama is playing out in a distant part of the British empire, with the businessman and former yoga guru Tony Quinn at its centre. PAUL CULLENreports from Road Town, Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands
THE COURTROOM IS bedecked with Union Jacks, and the registrar starts proceedings by saying, “God save the queen,” but there is a distinctly Irish tinge to the case being heard on this tiny island by the commercial division of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.
The presiding judge, Justice Edward Bannister, has the tricky task of deciding who is right about a mass of claims and counterclaims being made by the present and former directors of International Natural Energy (INE), which struck oil in Belize with the financial help of scores of small investors from Ireland.
Two of the company’s Irish founders, Sheila McCaffrey and Susan Morrice, are at loggerheads over control of a company that has earned hundreds of millions of euro in oil revenue over the past five years.
And then there is Tony Quinn, the yoga guru, health-food shop owner, hypnotherapist and now INE director, who has the most to win or lose from the proceedings. Quinn was given 64,000 shares in the company in 2006 – this is not in dispute by either side – and stands to earn $23 million (€18 million) under an agreement reached with INE last August to buy them back. But Justice Bannister has stopped this transaction going ahead until the case brought by McCaffrey is dealt with.
In her claim, McCaffrey alleges the company is being mismanaged, with money being diverted to benefit Morrice and Quinn. She says Quinn’s shares were never validly allotted. The two deny her claims and say she was removed because she had become impossible to work with and was unsuited to running the business as it grew.
The case, which is being heard in the British Virgin Islands because INE is incorporated nearby in the Caribbean, is being watched closely by the small investors, some of whom hope to launch a derivative action on foot of McCaffrey’s action. In spite of its success in striking oil, the company has yet to pay a dividend, although two years ago it did release loans to some shareholders under strict conditions.
Many of the shareholders who borrowed at the height of the Celtic Tiger to invest in the company are now under immense financial pressure and desperate for a payout. A handful of the disaffected shareholders made the long trip to the Caribbean this week to observe the trial. Quinn, his hair bleached and his complexion ruddied by the tropical sun, had a shorter trip, having flown over with his partner, Eve, from his home in the Bahamas.
Lots of companies get into dispute, and friends fall out, particularly when large sums of money are involved. What distinguishes this case is the ties that originally linked the Irish directors and shareholders, all of which lead back to Quinn and his ideas about the power of the mind to influence events.