Nfld. & Labrador

No appetite for mill deal: premier

Premier Danny Williams said his government is leery of doing business with Bob Roche, whose company made a play for a defunct central Newfoundland paper mill.

Williams says government 'treading very, very lightly'

Premier Danny Williams said his government is leery of doing business with Bob Roche, the Canadian businessman who made a play for a defunct central Newfoundland paper mill.

A possible deal to re-open the Grand Falls-Windsor mill fell apart this week after Roche's Toronto-based private equity firm Motion Invest announced that it was no longer interested in acquiring it.

The company accused Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale of "confidentiality breaches" and "misrepresentations."

Williams on Friday defended Dunderdale's handling of the issue, and said Motion Invest conducted itself less than favourably.

"It's unfortunate that the company is not exactly stating the facts correctly," Williams told reporters.

"Right from day one, the minister quite rightly said, 'Don't build up your hopes in this. This is just the first contact,'" Williams said.

 Obviously the way that this company conducted itself over the last three or four days shows that they're all over the place."

After Motion Invest said it was pulling out, Dunderdale disclosed Tuesday that Roche had been seeking $52 million in government-backed loans and guarantees.

Just a day later, Dunderdale said Motion Invest had indicated it was still willing to pursue a possible deal.

Williams said the province is finding it "very difficult" to justify having any dealings with the company.

"From our perspective, we don't have an appetite to engage them anyway. If they can come in with a solid proposal that was worth considering, we'd look at it. But if they're no longer interested, that's unfortunate," said Williams.

"But, from our perspective, I don't think we've lost anything in the sense that this isn't a company that's conducted themselves really well."

Bitter taste for former investor

Williams's statements come amidst new revelations about Roche and some of his past dealings.

Roche has made million-dollar promises to re-start failing international businesses, including Uvine, an international wine marketing company that was based in England.

Francis Wyburd, a consultant who worked with Uvine, told CBC News he was never fully paid for his work.

"The first payment on the 30 of April, 2008, did happen. And the remaining 70 per cent never materialized," said Wyburd.

Along with a group of other creditors, Wyburd went to the English government for help. However, they were told that even though Roche was "known to the British authorities," the police couldn't afford to pursue him.

Wyburd tried to track Roche down himself, but found the business addresses he'd provided to creditors were wrong.

He told CBC News the provincial government should proceed with caution if it plans to deal with Roche in the future.

Roche has refused formal interview requests from CBC News, but spoke with a CBC producer earlier this week at his office in the North York area of Toronto. His companies are based in a modest business-park unit that includes a commercial printshop.