Legal battles loom over management dispute

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SUBIC BAY FREEPORT: A court battle over a crucial decision regarding a Voting Trust Agreement (VTA) entered into between Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium Inc. (SBMEI) shareholders and a company executive looms while suits and counter-suits are being filed in courts in neighboring Olongapo City and Bataan as a row over rightful ownership and management of Ocean Adventure and Camayan Beach Resort here continues.

Scott Sharpe, who recently initiated a takeover of Ocean Adventure and Camayan Beach Resort with the help of a security agency and members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) a day after a failed attempt to evict him from his home, said he had filed a case of grave coercion against former president and CEO Arthur Tai and other AWOL company employees in a court in Morong, Bataan.

“Since his removal last February 13, Tai has been waging an unrelenting campaign to disrupt company operations while aided and abetted by managers and misguided personnel who follow his bidding, the latest incident being this break-in into the sales office in Manila,” a statement from the SBMEI said.

Tai is described as a Chinese-American and was a consultant from Oxford and Associates in Beijing prior to his stint at Ocean Adventure.

Robert Gonzaga, SBMEI corporate communications director, said company employees who were on absent without leave (AWOL) status broke into the Manila sales office of Ocean Adventure and Camayan Beach Resort on March 6.

He identified the employees as Vic Sol, Revelie Guevarra, Dan Teria, Grace Espinoza, Winnie Oconer, Andrea May Maguigad, Eric dela Cruz and Gwynne Barbasa.

Gonzaga said these employees have been issued NTEs (Notice To Explain) and preventively suspended for 30 days.

The suspensions, and the filing of appropriate criminal charges after due process has been accorded to those involved in the raid, stemmed from an apparent attempt at corporate sabotage and theft of company-owned laptops, according to Gonzaga.

“Desktop computers, a couple of corporate cellular phones and a vault with money and financial documents inside were lost after the raid and the suspects even ran away with the gift certificates for Ocean Adventure and Camayan Beach Resort, a police blotter on the incident said.

Gonzaga said the majority shareowners of Ocean Adventure have already made it clear that Tai violated the terms of the voting trust that was given to him and that Sharpe is the company’s current CEO who, along with director Gail Laule, is a founding owner and experts in their field.

“The only claim that Tai has to even being a part of Ocean Adventure is the validity of the VTA given to him by Sharpe and Laule, which had already been revoked for breach of trust and confidence last year,” he added.

Tai, on the other hand, said Ocean Adventure and Camayan Resort shut down its Manila sales office on March 6.

“We decided to shut down our sales office in Mandaluyong [City], Metro Manila to put a stop to the systematic looting and theft of company revenues,” said Tai in a statement to a local publication here.

Tai considers himself still president and CEO of the SBMEI, saying the marine theme park was forcibly occupied since last month by a group led by a disgruntled stockholder.

“The closure of our Manila sales office was an implementation of a plan announced as early as January to move it back to Subic,” he said.

Tai claimed that the team deployed by the group of Sharpe, who led the forcible takeover of the Ocean Adventure and Camayan Resort on the night of February 13, has been committing irregularities “wherein payments have not been deposited to the company’s bank accounts but instead are channeled and funneled to personal accounts.”

Sharpe’s camp has condemned the closure of Ocean Adventure and Camayan Resorts’ Manila sales office, referring to it as “forcible entry with theft of company property, and grave coercion of its employees at the hands of Tai and companions.”

According to Tai, legal remedies against Sharpe’s group have already been initiated in consultation with other members of the SBMEI board of directors.

Tai, recently met with more than 100 SBMEI AWOL employees and paid them their salaries for the period.

He announced that he is in Subic and has no intention to leave, saying he will take back possession of Ocean Adventure and Camayan Resort in accordance with the rule of law.

Sharpe, on the other hand, said he and Laule are original owners and majority shareholders of the SBMEI and they decided to execute a VTA with Tai, whom they recruited after the departure of president and CEO Timothy Desmond, to help run the SBMEI.

Both Sharpe and Laule said they revoked the VTA with Tai because of violations in the agreement.

Tai reportedly went to a court in Olongapo to keep the validity of the VTA but the court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

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