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UPP leader backs divestment of WIOC shares, But raises questions over one of the major shareholders

By Carlena Knight

Carlena.knight@antiguaobserver.com

Leader of the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) Harold Lovell has given his support towards the initiative which gives Antiguans and Barbudans the opportunity to purchase shares in the West Indies Oil Company (WIOC).

He also indicated that the undertaking was in fact an idea that the UPP intended to implement as a similar project.

“Well, insofar as any development that brings power to the ordinary man and woman in Antigua, that’s very much in keeping with our philosophy and, if you look at our manifestos especially the manifesto for 2014 and 2018, you will see this is a model that we have advocated.

“In fact, what is being done is precisely what we had already started when we stared negotiating the purchase of WIOC, so as far as selling shares to Antiguans and Barbudans is concerned that is very much in keeping with our philosophy and everything that we have advocated insofar as bringing that type of power to our people,” he said.  

However, Lovell, a former minister of finance, continued that more information is needed on one of the other WIOC shareholders — Fancy Bridge — which holds 24 percent of the shares.

His concerns stem from the negotiations made through Chinese billionaire, Xiao Jianhu, on behalf of Fancy Bridge. Jianhu was snatched from a Hong Kong luxury hotel and taken into Chinese custody three years ago. His whereabouts are still unknown while some have speculated that he is under house arrest.

In September 2018, a report in the South China Morning Post citing unnamed sources stated that Xiao would soon be brought to trial over the crimes of “manipulating stock and futures markets” and “offering bribes on behalf of institutions”.

Because of this, Lovell says it is imperative that more information is shared by the government assuring the public that Xiao’s debacle is not related to, or could negatively impact, the WIOC shares.

“I still would like to hear more about who is Fancy Bridge, what has become of Mr [Xiao] who we understand was the person who was first involved with the transaction with the purchase of West Indies Oil.

“We know that Fancy Bridge remains a major shareholder, holding 24 percent, and I think it is important for us to get the full story on Mr [Xiao] who we know was taken from Hong Kong into mainland China.

“We haven’t heard anything about him and we would like to know if that poses any possible risk to potential investors. It is very important for the government to come clean as far Mr [Xiao] is concerned,” he concluded.

Founded in 1961, WIOC was purchased in 1976 by the government of Antigua and Barbuda, which sold 75 percent of the company to National Petroleum four years later.

The government, in 2015, acquired 51 percent of the company with some of those shares being sold to Petroleum of Venezuela SA (PDVSA) and Chinese Company-Fancy Bridge Limited.

In 2019, government announced plans to reduce its stake in the company to 41 percent by selling 10 percent. Investors have until April 21 to buy shares through CIBC First Caribbean Bank.

A total of 301,920 ordinary shares have been made available – half of which are reserved for public servants and the remainder for citizens and institutions in the country, the OECS and Caricom.

The share offer is fixed at $60 per share with a minimum allocation of 50 shares per applicant and a maximum of 15,096. This means that the minimum investment is $3,000.

Interested parties can visit WIOC’s website at www.westindiesoil.com/invest/ for more details.

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