Court action against the Keith Mitchell-led government by a company in which Dr. Patrick Antoine served as one of its directors played a key role in strained relations with the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration.
According to a high-level source, the Grenadian leader accused Dr. Antoine in a face-to-face encounter of trying to embarrass his regime after the company through its local attorney filed a law suit in the Supreme Court registry against government and the state-owned Marketing & National Importing Board (MNIB).
The source who asked not to be named said that the company, believed to be headquartered in Miami in the United States, took legal action after MNIB failed to pay an estimated $EC815, 000.00 due to it for non-payment of sugar supplied to the state entity.
He said the company was also trying to recuperate another $EC270, 000.00 that it was forced to pay in fines levied against it in light of the default on payment from MNIB.
The source pointed out that Dr. Antoine only became a Director of the company in 2015 which is sometime after MNIB had been defaulting on payments to the sugar supplying company.
THE NEW TODAY understands that the U.S-based company had been engaged in business with MNIB during the 2008-13 rule of the Congress government of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas when Fitzroy James served as General Manager of the state body.
The source told this newspaper that shortly after accepting a Directorship on the company, the other Directors asked Dr. Antoine who held the post of Grenada’s Ambassador to Caricom among others to try and use his influence to get MNIB to pay the long-outstanding debt.
He spoke of MNIB signing a court-directed Mediation document to make good on the debt of close to one million dollars owed to the U.S-based company but the promise was never kept by its then Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ruel Edwards who is now occupying another top-paying job in the Ministry of Finance.
He said the company had no choice but to take legal action to garnish the account of the Mitchell-led government in St. George’s to get payment for the sugar supplied to the Marketing Board.
He stated that an angry PM Mitchell reacted by telling Dr. Antoine that he had lost confidence in him and that he was trying to embarrass the government.
The source disagreed with the position adopted by the Prime Minister on the issue of the court action.
“This matter should not have even reached so far. Dr. Mitchell had ample opportunity and time to call in Ruel Edwards and get him to make payments to the company in light of the court order that was signed. That is what the PM should have done in the circumstances”, he said.
“It is Marketing Board that is owing the company after more than 18 months for sugar supplied to it. What was the MNIB doing with the money it was collecting locally from the sale of sugar. And you have to remember that MNIB sells sugar on a cash basis to local businesses who purchase sugar from it”, he added.
He pointed to MNIB being in clear violation of the payment terms of the agreement signed with the U.S company that was providing it with a 30-day line of credit for sugar supplied to it.
Prime Minister Mitchell has announced plans to launch a public inquiry into the affairs of MNIB which is said to have raked up debt in the order of close to EC$4 million and not able to pay a number of its creditors.
The source also said that the PM Mitchell/Dr. Antoine relationship also took a turn for the worst in recent weeks following reports in some local quarters that the former ambassador had provided assistance for the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) to fight the NNP in the March 13 general election.
Dr. Mitchell reportedly raised the issue with Dr. Antoine at the recent Caricom heads of government summit in Jamaica and the latter responded that he was occupied with doing too much things than to concentrate his efforts on something like that.
The Patrick Antoine/NDC connection was also raised with the former Caricom Ambassador by Foreign Affairs Minister Peter David, the former NDC General Secretary who also attended the Jamaica summit.
Two weeks ago, THE NEW TODAY published excerpts from a letter in which Dr. Antoine wrote to PM Mitchell announcing his resignation from all four key positions held with the NNP regime.
Dr. Antoine was a key figure on the NNP platform in the 2013 general election and chief spokesman on the party’s promise to build a new economy for Grenada and to create thousands of new jobs.