The Irish Times – Friday, June 29, 2012
PAUL CULLEN on Tortola, British Virgin Islands
CLAIMS OF cult activity in an oil company with links to Irishman Tony Quinn led to his involvement in training staff being downplayed, a court here has heard.
Belize Natural Energy decided it would only “add fuel to the fire” sparked by negative press coverage to refer to Mr Quinn’s involvement in providing what were described as Educo mind seminars for local staff, chief executive Dr Gilbert Canton said.
Mr Quinn had formerly been well known in Ireland as a much-publicised commercial yoga practitioner.
Dr Canton said that after the government in Belize sought to increase its tax take on oil revenues, a vicious media campaign started to “bring down” BNE’s Irish directors, Sheila McCaffrey and Susan Morrice, nicknamed “Sally and Susie”.
The company did not want to make this more of a problem than it was by being linked to Educo and members of a perceived cult, he said. He denied Educo was a cult, but said it was being portrayed as one in the press in Belize.
Dr Canton was giving evidence in a case taken by Ms McCaffrey against BNE and its holding company, International Natural Energy, and Ms Morrice and Mr Quinn. She alleges company funds are being misused. Mr Quinn is a director of INE, but not BNE.
BNE paid Mr Quinn’s companies $718,000 for providing Educo seminars since 2007, the court heard, as well as $665,000 for establishing Educo gyms in Belize.
There is no specific reference to the seminar payments in BNE’s financial statements or in the training plans submitted to the government of Belize, barrister Frank Walwyn, for Ms McCaffrey, told the court.
One of the reasons BNE did not provide details about Educo in the training plan was that it did not want to associate training in the company with “this cult”, Mr Walwyn claimed.
Dr Canton said this was not the case. There was nothing to hide or keep secret. Forty staff had been trained and the beginner seminars had proved to be a useful tool in helping productivity.
Mr Walwyn said when Mr Quinn gave a seminar for members of the Belizean government in 2007, some had left because it was “hokey stuff”. Dr Canton said some people had left depending on their duties and obligations but he never heard people saying they had not liked the seminar.
INE paid Dr Canton bonuses totalling $318,000 between 2009 and 2011 in addition to his normal salary, the court heard.
The case is due to conclude today with final submissions from lawyers for both sides.