"Slanderous and false" is Southern Energys reaction to a lawsuit filed against it and the Turnbull administration over the proposed sale of the V.I. Water and Power Authority.
Earlier this week, St. Croix community activist Gail Watson Chiang and her attorney, Lee Rohn, filed suit in Territorial Court claiming that the V.I. governments negotiations with Southern Energy for the purchase of WAPA violate the territorys competitive bidding laws. The suit also claims that an exclusivity agreement signed by the two parties is illegal.
Further, the suit alleges that Southern Energy paid a government negotiating teams expenses for lodging and travel to and from the companys headquarters in Atlanta.
"Its slanderous and false," Southern Energy spokesman Chuck Griffin said about the suit. "The biggest thing was we had somehow paid government officials off. Yes, we did bring them to Atlanta and they did stay at the Ritz Carlton. But we sent them an invoice.
"Their time spent here (Atlanta) was mostly in a conference room."
The Ritz Carlton, Griffin said, is a short walk to the company's headquaters buidling in downtown Atlanta.
Southern Energy officials have said the company will offer $100 million in cash up front for WAPA and refinance its $150 million bond debt for 80 percent ownership of the utility. While Griffin said a proposal hasnt been submitted to Gov. Charles Turnbull, it is "imminent."
Griffin said that because the company is named as a defendant in the suit, it will have to take part in any proceedings. He added, however, that the legal challenge wont derail the companys plans to purchase WAPA.
"Were named as a defendant, so we do have to get involved legally," he said. "A restraining order would obviously affect the progress of the deal. Other than that, its something we have to work through."
As for the lawsuits allegations that the government and Southern Energy entered into an exclusivity agreement, Griffin said that was part of the due-diligence process when the company was studying WAPAs books and operations prior to making an offer.
"We did have an agreement that they (the government) would talk to us alone," Griffin said, adding that the administration said such an agreement was legal. "We had no reason to believe there was any problem with it."
Government House officials couldnt be reached for comment on the lawsuit Thursday evening, including allegations that two other companies had expressed interest in purchasing a portion of WAPA. Griffin said Southern Company wasnt in the position to know whether any other offers had been made.
Meanwhile, Griffin said the claims in the lawsuit raise questions about Chiangs and Rohns motives.
"Theres very little in here that seems to be factually based," he said. "It leaves one to wonder if their motives are political."