Kinawley woman sues over oil millions
Published: 5 Jul 2012 13:00
Sheila McCaffrey, from Kinawley, was a director of INE (International Natural Energy), which found massive oil reserves off the Caribbean island of Belize in 2006.
The company was backed by scores of small investors from Ireland but has never paid them a dividend.
McCaffrey was a founder of INE but was removed from the board of directors. She has gone to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court seeking an order to force the company to buy her shares.
A former fellow director, Tony Quinn, the yoga guru, health-food shop owner and hypnotherapist, has the most to win or lose from the proceedings. He was given 64,000 shares in the company in 2006 and stands to earn $23 million under an agreement reached with INE last August to buy them back. However, the judge, Justice Edward Bannister, has stopped the deal going ahead until the case brought by McCaffrey is dealt with.
Two of INE's Irish founders, McCaffrey and Susan Morrice, are at loggerheads over control of a company that has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in oil revenue over the past five years.
In her claim, McCaffrey alleges the company is being mismanaged, with money being diverted to the benefit of Morrice and Quinn. She says Quinn's shares were never validly allotted. The two deny her claims and say she was removed because she had become impossible to work with and was unsuited to running the business as it grew.
It was back in the mid-1990s that McCaffrey and Morrice met on the White House lawn at one of Bill Clinton's drives to promote investment in Northern Ireland. They joined forces with Paul Marriott, an English drilling contractor, and secured funding from investors who, like them, had attended Quinn's Educo Mind Power seminars. More than 300 people each invested at least 40,000 euro in the venture, many of them borrowing from friends, family and banks to do so.
For 50 years big oil companies prospected for oil in Belize with no success. Then INE's subsidiary. Belize Natural Energy, a minnow in the sector, came along and struck oil at the first attempt.
"It was unexpected in our business that the first well you drill in a country with 50 years of dry wells would produce a discovery so fast," Marriott said in court this week. Last year he sued the company and reached a settlement.
Most people would put such an oil find down to luck and science. But some of those who attended Quinn's 18,500 euro seminars believe one of the reasons they struck oil arose from the application of his techniques to focus the mind and remove doubts and negative thoughts.
The court has heard evidence about a series of fractious meetings between the directors in 2007 and 2008 at which efforts were made to resolve their growing differences.
McCaffrey sounds to have been the biggest loser, having received nothing for her shareholding. She was removed as a director and her home in Belize was searched by the police on foot of a company complaint. With limited resources, she struggled for a number of years to get her case into court. She described her evidence to court this week as "a snapshot of the living hell" she had endured over the past five years.
Whatever the outcome of the current case, it won't mark the end of the disputes. The case taken by another director, Jean Cornec, over 11.7 million euro he says he is due for his shares is scheduled to be heard in Denver, Colorado, next year.
Meanwhile, the disaffected shareholders are still hoping to have their day in court. Many of them are now under immense financial pressure and desperate for a payout.