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HomeNewsLocal newsGovernment House: WIPL Has Never Held Title to Limetree Refinery

Government House: WIPL Has Never Held Title to Limetree Refinery

Limetree Bay Refinery sprawls along St. Croix’s south shore in this aerial shot. (Source photo by Linda Morland)

West Indies Petroleum Limited has never held title to the assets and contracts of Limetree Bay Refinery on St. Croix, Government House said Thursday in response to WIPL’s statement Wednesday that it has no stake in, or ownership of, the shuttered facility.

WIPL and Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation were designated as the winning bidder for the refinery following a bankruptcy auction in December, but PHRT has always held the title, Government House said in its statement “clarifying the ownership of the Limetree Bay Refinery.”

PHRT released an unsigned statement Thursday afternoon, on letterhead with an address of 1 Estate Hope in Christiansted but no phone number or officers listed, noting the same.

“Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation, which is a consortium of United States and Caribbean based investors, notes reportage in the public domain concerning the ownership of Limetree Bay Refinery in St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands and wishes to issue the following clarification,” it said.

“The Limetree Bay Refinery was earlier this year successfully purchased by Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation, as reflected in the bankruptcy court filings. WIPL did not take title to the refinery. The refinery remains owned by Port Hamilton. Port Hamilton was the legal entity used to acquire the Limetree Bay Refinery in St. Croix and it also is a separate legal entity from WIPL,” the statement said.

“All relevant authorities which approved and regulated the sale of the refinery are fully aware of the aforementioned circumstances in which the transaction was completed,” it said. “Port Hamilton has proceeded to have discussions with the relevant authorities as it takes steps towards operationalizing the facility in the shortest possible time while being sensitive to environmental best practices.”

In its statement, Government House said the sale was conducted pursuant to the legal procedures and processes of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and said the details are publicly available in the docket of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, Case 21-32351.

The court approved the sale on Dec. 21 and “West Indies Petroleum Limited (WIPL) together with Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation LLLP (PHRT), were designated as the winning bidder under the order and are parties to the Asset Purchase Agreement as purchaser,” the Government House statement said.

“Title to the Purchased Assets was transferred to Port Hamilton at the time of closing, per the bill of sale attached to the Asset Purchase Agreement. So while both WIPL and Port Hamilton were Purchasers under the Agreement, the court filings indicate that title to the assets and contracts was in Port Hamilton from the onset. All of this information has been and continues to be public record,” the statement said.

“As usual, the Government will continue to monitor developments at the refinery,” it said.

The statement does not address WIPL’s statement Wednesday that it “is not a stakeholder in the Limetree Bay Refinery in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and was not the entity which purchased the refinery,” and that it did not pursue buying Limetree after participating in the early bidding process.

“Although an initial participant in the early bidding process, due to legal factors WIPL elected not to further pursue the initiative. Those factors also constrained WIPL from commenting sooner about the inaccurate reports in the media,” the Jamaica-based company said.

WIPL’s announcement Wednesday was in direct contrast to a statement it issued in January, vowing to be a good steward of the refinery after it acquired the facility for $62 million at the sale governed by the bankruptcy court.

In January, the company said it was “reiterating its commitment to successfully close the sale and pursue major strategic investment in the refinery. … WIPL is also committed to being sensitive to environmental considerations in its operation of the facility that is widely regarded among stakeholders as a landmark and the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.”

For its part, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which maintains a webpage dedicated to its oversight of the Limetree Bay Refinery that lists WIPL and PHRT as the owners, said Wednesday that the “EPA is consulting the U.S. Department of Justice on this matter.”

Sen. Kurt Vialet also responded to the news Wednesday, saying in a statement that the latest development has left him “baffled and confused,” especially given WIPL’s statement in January that it was committed to be environmentally responsible in its operation of the facility.

In a phone interview Thursday, Vialet said WIPL’s statement and Government House’s response raise a number of questions, including who exactly is behind PHRT.

“I’m surprised the statement from Government House did not disclose” the owners of PHRT, he said. “Wouldn’t people want to know who they are dealing with? Why is it so secretive?” said Vialet.

“If you are purchasing a refinery and you are planning to bring it back online at least we want to know if the players have some money,” the senator said. “Who was the executive branch speaking to? … Who has been speaking to the EPA?”

Vialet also asked “which entity established environmental liability with the Environmental Protection Agency” for the refinery’s restart.

A Google search renders nothing for Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation or PHRT, which appears to not have an online presence. The officers for WIPL are listed on its stationery as Gordon Shirley, Tarik Felix, Gerald Chambers, Amanda Levien, and Eric Evans. Two of its former officers, Courtney Wilkinson and John Levy, are accused in a cybercrimes case in Jamaica of unauthorized access to company data “with the intent to commit or facilitate the commission of an offence,” according to news reports by that country’s media. Their next court appearance is scheduled for July 16.

The USVI’s Recorder of Deeds website lists PHRT as holding the deed for the refinery as of Jan. 24. The Source tried to access the documents but they did not arrive Thursday.

St. Croix Energy, a group of undisclosed partners who reportedly reside in the Virgin Islands, was initially declared the winner of an auction for the bankrupt refinery in November in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, with a bid of about $20 million. However, Judge David Jones reopened the auction after WIPL appealed, saying its chief executive had intended to participate but was unable to when he needed emergency medical care.

West Indies Petroleum and Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation went on to win the reopened auction on Dec. 18 with a joint bid of $62 million, and St. Croix Energy was declared the backup-bidder, at $57 million.

St. Croix Energy had objected in court to its competitor’s validity as bidders, claiming that WIPL was bidding on behalf of two entities not qualified by the court to participate: West Indies St. Lucia — WIPL’s majority shareholder — and newly-formed Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation, which had at first been called St. Croix Refining and Transportation.

Jones denied those objections and found WIPL’s case credible. At a hearing to approve the sale on Dec. 21, there were also questions about the potential structure WIPL would create to manage the refinery.

In the end, Jones said he was unmoved by arguments about the structure. Noting that before taking a seat as a bankruptcy judge, he had been involved in business law, he said, “It doesn’t surprise me the structure is continuing to evolve and probably will continue to evolve. There is no evidence of inappropriate behavior.”

WIPL has not responded to a request seeking comment and clarification about its Wednesday statement.

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