Glooscap First Nation loses quota for importing Greek feta cheese
Lawsuits flying over failed plan to import feta from Europe to Nova Scotia First Nation
Update, Sept. 16, 2021: Nova Scotia RCMP have ended their criminal investigation into the feta cheese importation business, more details here,
The Glooscap First Nation in Nova Scotia has lost its quota to import 25 tonnes of feta cheese from Greece.
The one-year quota was awarded as part of the Canada Europe Trade Agreement. It led to a failed cheese-import business that is now in the hands of the RCMP and subject to a lawsuit launched by Glooscap Chief Sydney Peters against former partners in the scheme.
Between 2017 and 2019, the federal government spent over $2 million on the business venture to import, process and distribute feta cheese from Greece. But a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said the arrangement had expired.
The spokesperson said Glooscap had failed to meet requirements and was ineligible for a quota in 2019.
On Friday, a former business development promoter for Glooscap First Nation filed court papers denying any wrongdoing in the affair.
Claude O'Hara served as vice-president of corporate development at Glooscap Ventures, the band's economic development agency. O'Hara is one of eight defendants named in the lawsuit launched following the debacle. He was the last to file a defence.
The deal started in the fall of 2017, when the 300-member Annapolis Valley band was approached by businessmen Peter and Dimitri Tsakanikas with a proposal to distribute feta cheese from their company in Greece.
In court papers, Glooscap said it paid $2.3 million for equipment to process and package feta cheese imported by its partner, ILIA Gourmet Canada, headed by Peter and Dimitri Tasaknikas.
The band said the equipment never arrived, nor did a processing facility that met federal standards. Glooscap alleged some band money earmarked for the feta cheese partnership was diverted to salaries and vehicles used for unrelated businesses operated by its partner.
Glooscap said it called the RCMP after it learned of spending irregularities. It said $3.1 million in funds are under police review.
Defendant says band aware of old fraud allegation
In the lawsuit, Glooscap said O'Hara was negligent in not warning of prior fraud allegations against the promoter of the partnership, Peter Tsakanikas.
In his defence, O'Hara denied telling the Glooscap Ventures board the background check was "positive in all respects" and further denied allegations he acted to further his "'personal interests' or in order to perpetrate any fraud."
O'Hara said the allegation against Tsakanikas was over a U.S. lawsuit that was settled more than 10 years ago. The civil action was disclosed in a background check carried out by a company hired by the band to vet Ilia Gourmet.
O'Hara said due diligence was not his responsibility, but belonged to Amanda Peters, then the CEO of Glooscap Ventures.
"The defendant received the information within the same email that Amanda Peters sent to her uncle Chief Sydney Peters, which contained [the] comprehensive report," O'Hara said.
Defendants deny wrongdoing
The band also accused O'Hara of providing confidential information about Glooscap operations to the promoters, in violation of a confidentiality clause.
O'Hara admitted he is now a director of a business affiliated with the promoters, but denied he breached any confidentiality agreement.
All others named in the lawsuit, including Ilia Gourmet directors Peter and Dimitri Tsakanikas, have already filed separate defences denying any wrongdoing.
The defences dispute the band's most serious claims, including the accusation funds were improperly diverted to unrelated businesses. They said the processing equipment is in Greece awaiting a suitable processing facility.
The band was blamed for not securing a facility acceptable to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
ACOA owed money
The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is still owed $907,000 for a loan it made for the project. Indigenous Services Canada also gave the band $1 million.
Some feta cheese did make it from Greece to Nova Scotia, but the band says it expired in August 2019 and at the end of February 2020.
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