Firms fight for $400m held by court

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 October, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 1995, 12:00am

LAWYERS acting for mystery companies registered in the British Virgin Islands took a hint from the bench yesterday and applied to have the Attorney-General struck from proceedings to unfreeze nearly $400 million held in a court bank account.

Robert Mills-Owens QC, representing three companies of unknown ownership, went to the Appeal Court to try to have Mr Justice Rogers removed from their case in the High Court because he said the judge had displayed a 'hostile attitude' towards him and his clients.

On one occasion 'the judge did a great deal of talking, most of it having a go at me,' said Mr Mills-Owens.

But instead of examining the behaviour of the judge, the three Appeal Court judges spent much of the day discussing the role of the Attorney-General, who has been effectively standing between the companies and the cash by requesting further proof from the three companies that they did really own the shares.

After heavy hints from the three judges, Mr Mills-Owens said he would consult with his clients - the names of principals of the three companies have never been revealed - and expected to make a written application to have the Attorney-General removed from the proceedings today.

Justice Litton warned him, however: 'If in the end it all goes wrong, don't blame us.' If the Attorney-General was struck from the proceedings, it would be theoretically possible for the cash to be paid immediately.

The three companies, Killenny, La Fayette, and Commercial Success owned shares in the World Trade Centre Group when the Financial Secretary appointed an inspector into the group's affairs in August 1992.

Because the three refused to reveal their true ownership the shares were frozen and subsequently sold.

The proceeds have been collecting interest in a court bank account ever since.

Neither the inspector's report nor one of the territory's largest police investigations has resulted in any prosecutions.

The companies are now trying to get the cash back through the courts, but allege the judge is attempting to use the proceedings for a 'wholly improper purpose' - that is, further investigation of their ownership.