An investment firm in the British Virgin Islands has sued businessman Tom Clarke, claiming it is the true sole owner of the groups attempting to revive the Essar Steel Minnesota taconite project, not Clarke.
Clarke could not be reached for comment.
Nubai Global Investment, in its lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, is claiming theft, fraud and misrepresentation. It alleges Clarke sold his stake in the Nashwauk, Minn., taconite project to Nubai in 2017 and was terminated as CEO in mid-July.
The lawsuit also claims that, without authority, Clarke "anointed himself as the sole director, chief executive officer, spokesperson and leader" of Mesabi Metallics Co. LLC and its sister Chippewa Capital Partners LLC — the two businesses attempting to restart construction of Essar after its bankruptcy in July 2016.
"Clarke has essentially stolen Chippewa and Mesabi from Nubai and appears intent on perpetrating a fraud," the complaint said. "As sole owner of Chippewa and Mesabi, Nubai removed Clarke from all positions and offices held by him in both companies pursuant to the operating agreements of those companies. However, Clarke has simply ignored the written resolutions removing him and instead arrogated to himself all the authority of sole owner, sole director, sole officer and sole spokesperson."
While Clarke, a health care business owner based in the state of Virginia, was the public face behind Mesabi Metallics and Chippewa for about 16 months, the Nubai lawsuit said Clarke no longer has ownership or any contractual rights to either firm. Nubai said it acquired 95 percent of the ownership interest of Chippewa from Clarke in November 2017 and the remaining 5 percent in May 2018.
Yet "without authority" on July 22, Nubai claims Clarke tried to remove two directors from Chippewa and Mesabi and spread the word to employees, key third parties and the media that he alone has full authority for both firms, the lawsuit said.
Clarke, the complaint claims, sent removal notices to the board members alleging "funding defaults and breaches of fiduciary duty" even though he had already been removed from his position. Phone calls to Clarke's Minnesota office and cellphone were not returned Thursday.
Nubai has asked the court for a restraining order, a declaratory judgment of ownership and to fine Clarke more than $75,000. Unless the parties come to an agreement, a federal judge will now settle the legal scuffle and put to rest the question of who owns what.
The disagreement is yet another roadblock for the Iron Range project. The property being fought over was supposed to have been built and operating as of 10 years ago.
But the Mumbai-based owners of Essar wrestled with financial troubles since 2007. They repeatedly stopped and restarted the building project, leaving the state and hundreds of contractors either unpaid or paid late.
Essar filed for bankruptcy in 2016 with roughly $1 billion in debt. The iron taconite pelletizing complex it envisioned providing hundreds of jobs, today stands only half built. State-owned mining leases associated with the property were recently awarded to Chippewa and Metallics by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources after financial obligations were met.