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By Orville Williams

Persons looking to purchase shares in the West Indies Oil Company (WIOC) Limited, as part of the divestment of 10 percent owned by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, now have even more time to prepare applications with the announcement of May 21 as the new closing date.

Late last month, the government announced that it would divest the small percentage of its holdings in the company – amounting to 301,920 ordinary shares – toward raising approximately EC $18 million, to “fund a number of its critical capital projects”. 

The offer opened on March 24 and was scheduled to run until April 21, until the announcement of the deadline extension.

WIOC Chief Executive Officer, Gregory Georges, explained the rationale behind the extension and also, an adjustment made to the offering to boost its “attractiveness”.

“We felt that there was not enough time for the institutional investors – such as the other banks, insurance companies, the credit unions – to participate in the share offering. Because many of their decisions are made from the advice of the investment committee [and] these committees had not met yet, this gives them the opportunity to meet and then make their recommendations.

“What we’ve done is, we’ve increased the minimum share purchase from 15,096 shares to 50,000 shares, that equates to EC $3 million per entity. What this has done is it has enabled [us] to make the offer far more attractive for the institutional investors.  

“This recommendation really came from our brokers, who advised that the previous maximum level we had of 15,096 shares, did not make it worth their while for the large institutional investors, especially those who are quite liquid at this time,” Georges explained.

Despite the good news for potential investors though, this announcement will likely not be welcomed by Natalia Querard, the owner of Half Moon Bay (HMB) Holdings, who was – by way of a court order – looking to recoup monies owed to her by the government, from the shares being divested at WIOC.

Querard has threatened to file contempt proceedings against the government, if the sale of shares was not halted or if no agreement was reached with them regarding the sale of said shares.

The government compulsorily acquired Querard’s property in 2007 and still owes US $18 million, after making a US $8 million default payment last year.

With that matter still before the court, the legal representatives of both parties agreed to an undertaking that no disposal of shares in the storage company would be performed until the case is decided in the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal.

The government has hit back though, with Prime Minister Gaston Browne saying a decision to offer the shares to the public was made before that undertaking, meaning the public offering was not in violation of the agreement.

Observer contacted the legal representative of HMB for comment, but was not successful up to press time.