Sunday, December 10, 2006

Smelter Deal under threat?

by Camini Maharaj
Sunday Express
December 10, 2006

Republic Finance and Merchant Bank has obtained a US$8.6 million judgment in default against Sural CA, Government's joint venture partner in the aluminium smelting company, Alutrint Ltd. And sources report, that Republic Bank is looking at seizing the assets of Sural's 40 per cent interest in Alutrint and its 60 per cent stakeholding in another government venture, Alutech Ltd, in its bid to recoup the outstanding US millions owed by the State's Venezuelan partner.

The Sunday Express obtained a copy of the judgment in default which was registered on October 10 this year in the local courts and which orders Sural CA or Suramericana De Aluminio CA to pay Republic Bank US$8,678,066.63 for debt and interest at a statutory rate of 12 per cent per annum plus TT$3,270 in legal costs.

Republic Bank took Sural to the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago after failed attempts to call in the outstanding debt from the Venezuelan company, headed by Alfredo Riviere, a director in Alutrint, Alutech and a Ken Julien firm, called Pan American Development Company Ltd.

In the uncontested claim filed in the local courts, Republic Bank said the money represented the balance owed on four outstanding loans to a wholly-owned Sural subsidiary, Techno Metals Ltd, also a Venezuelan registered company. Leopoldo Rodriguez, a manager and director of Sural, signed a guarantee bond in May 1997, naming Sural as a guarantor and giving an undertaking to accept full liability for credit facilities extended to the company.

Under the terms of the guarantee bond, signed by Alfredo Riviere and his son Carlos Riviere, Sural is legally obligated to Republic Bank until full settlement of the debt. Sural failed to respond to the bank's demand for payment, legal letters or even a court warning issued by the High Court that judgment could be entered against the aluminium smelting company.

The Sunday Express understands that Republic Bank is also considering going after Sural's Venezuelan operation in Los Palos Grandes, Caracas. Alfredo Riviere and his associate Renda Butler, both electrical engineers. are listed as directors in Alutrint Ltd and Alutech Ltd, a planned aluminium wheel manufacturing facility to be set up in Trinidad.

The two men are also directors in Julien's company, Pan American Development, which the Professor, in an initial response to Sunday Express enquiries, disclaimed any knowledge of. Anthony Bullock, one of his attorneys, in a threat of litigation against the Sunday Express, said the truth was, "he (Julien) forgot about its existence".

In detaling what he termed imputed defamation against Prof Julien, Bullock said: "With regard to the company Pan American Development Co Ltd, you are correct in reporting that there is such a company registered and that Prof Julien is recorded as a director. The company was registered at a time when it was intended to be used as a vehicle for a business venture which eventually was not pursued, The company never got off the ground and has never traded."

Bullock said it was his client's instructions that: "There has never even been any directors' meeting. More importantly, this company has never had any relationship with UTT. It is for these reasons that Prof Julien's immediate response to your query concerning this company was that he knew nothing of it. Simply put, he forgot about its existence."

Attempts by this newspaper to reach Alfredo Riviere on Friday was unsuccessful. Butler, the managing director of Alutrint was reported to be "in meetings" and failed to return several messages left at the Pasea Main Road, Tunapuna base. Efforts to contact Alutrint's finance director, Adrian Bernard and Philip Julien, project development manager at Aluntrint also proved futile.

Finance analysts questioned why government has gone into joint venture deals without conducting the requisite due diligence of its business partners.


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