THREE States ministers, including Chief Minister Frank Walker, were e-mailed information about the Las Vegas lawsuit against developers Harcourt almost three weeks before last week’s big Waterfront debate.
But Senator Walker did not act on the information because, he says, ministers were assured by Harcourt director Patrick Power on the eve of last week’s debate that no such lawsuit existed.
The Chief Minister has now insisted that the development will not go ahead until a new investigation into Harcourt has been carried out.
After receiving Harcourt’s assurance, Senator Walker in turn assured States Members last week that Harcourt were not involved in any civil actions in the US and recommended that the States should approve the deal with Harcourt to create the proposed new £330 multi-million pound Esplanade Square financial district.
But the JEP has obtained court papers from the Clark County District Court in Nevada which show that the case was formally filed on 30 April — more than a month before the States debate.
Senator Walker, Economic Development Minister Philip Ozouf, Treasury Minister Terry Le Sueur and States chief executive Bill Ogley were all e-mailed by Deputy Sean Power, raising concerns over the proposed deal with Harcourt. He attached a news story to the e-mail from the Las Vegas Sun, which outlined the civil court case and how it has forced a $800m Sullivan Square development to grind to a halt.
After being challenged about the existence of the e-mail, Senator Walker, who is holidaying in Bermuda this week, said that the development would be stalled while investigations were carried out.
‘There is no way that this development is going ahead until the situation is clarified and until there is an up-to-date due diligence on the company,’ he said.
‘I don’t believe I have ever been so annoyed in my whole political career. I believed that everything we put to the States was the right way forward for Jersey and believed it was based on 100 per cent accurate information, and to find out after the event was in my view absolutely unacceptable,’ he said.
Senator Walker said that he contacted Harcourt personally about the e-mail which he had been sent.
‘Based on the e-mail, I asked questions of Harcourt and they assured me in writing that although there was a dispute, no legal filing had taken place. I had written conformation from Harcourt on 22 May saying that no legal action had been filed.
‘Every word I said to the States was based on up-to-date information received from Harcourt. At no point did I, or would I, mislead the States. I asked three times the night before the debate for a 100 per cent guarantee that there was no court action and I was assured that there was not. I received this information from Pat Power.’
When asked whether he thought that the Waterfront Enterprise Board had done everything possible to inform the States about Harcourt, Senator Walker said: ‘There are questions to be asked about everyone’s role. It is very important that it should be done calmly, coolly and properly and fully, and that is exactly what will be happening.’
Harcourt director Patrick Power responded: ‘He (Senator Walker) was not aware that the lawsuit had been filed because it hadn’t been filed when we were asked what the situation was in Nevada.’
When asked which politicians knew about the lawsuit in Las Vegas prior to the debate last Thursday, Mr Power replied: ‘No States Members except for WEB had asked the question, and we told them yes. But it hadn’t been filed when they asked. But to be honest this is nothing to do with what we are doing in Jersey. The disputes won’t have any impact in Jersey.’
When approached by the JEP yesterday, Senator Ozouf initially could not recall whether he received the e-mail on 16 May. But after being informed that Senator Walker had acknowledged receipt of the e-mail, Senator Ozouf asked for ‘an opportunity to check’.
He later admitted receiving the e-mail, but said that his Blackberry — a mobile device issued to all ministers which receives e-mails — did not allow him to open attachments and he therefore was not able to read the Las Vegas accusations.
He said: ‘I do recall scanning the e-mail and I was aware of the disagreement with the parties in Dublin, but I did not read the attachment that was sent about Las Vegas. The e-mail was not addressed to me — it was sent to Frank.’
He added: ‘I read e-mails on my Blackberry and it doesn’t allow me to open attachments. I receive about 500 e-mails a week and it is not possible to respond to all of them. The way I cope with e-mails is that I concentrate on those that are addressed to me.’
Senator Terry Le Sueur was unavailable for comment.
Speaking about his e-mail, which was sent to the three Senators but started with the words ‘Dear Frank’, Deputy Power said: ‘There was a reference to the lawsuit in the Irish Independent and the Irish Times. I wrote to Frank on 16 May, making him aware that there was litigation going on in Las Vegas.’
He added: ‘I passed the information on to him from the Las Vegas Sun, and then he probably passed the information on to other people. Senator Walker can’t read everything. We need to find out who he gave the information to. Did WEB act on it? And did they check it out?’
*Picture: An architect’s impression of Sullivan Square in Las Vegas