Editorials, Opinion

Justice legal drama turns into farce

It’s no secret Jim Justice’s finances are a mess. They’ve been the subject of reporting  and court cases since before Justice became governor of West Virginia. And they’ve always come across as something between a drama and a tragedy: failing empires, shady deals and the “little guy” left hung out to dry.

But lately they’ve seemed more like a farcical comedy. Take, for example, the recent court-ordered repossession of a Justice company helicopter as collateral for unpaid debts.

Prologue: In May 2009, Justice sold the family’s coal assets in Bluestone Resources to Russia-based Mechel for $436 million in cash and 83.3 million preferred shares of Mechel stock. In 2015, Justice bought the mines back for $5 million plus an agreement to pay Mechel’s parent company, Caroleng Investments Limited, a royalty of $3 per ton of mined coal, plus a portion of future sales. Unsurprisingly, Justice and his family did not hold up their end of the bargain. Caroleng sued.

Act 1: October 2019, two years into Justice’s tenure as West Virginia’s governor, the International Chamber of Commerce arbitrated the case in Paris, as Brad McElhinny reported, and its panel awarded Caroleng $8.4 million plus interest. The debt was not paid.

Act 2: On June 7, 2021, a U.S. federal court reaffirmed Bluestone Resources owed the $8.4 million judgment, plus pre- and post- award interest, now totaling close to $13 million. The debt was still not paid.

Act 3: On Oct. 5, 2023, a different federal court ordered U.S. marshals to seize a 2009 Bell helicopter, owned by Bluestone and stored in Virginia, to satisfy, in part, the debt owed to Caroleng. (Off-stage, the helicopter is moved from the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport in Virginia to Burlington, N.C.)

Act 4: Bluestone lawyers file an objection to the seizure, saying, “If a [British Virgin Islands] company controlled by a Russian oligarch is allowed to seize the helicopter, Bluestone’s secured creditors … will be irreparably harmed.” These “secured creditors” include $800 million in liability ($700 million personally guaranteed by Justice) through the now-defunct Greensill Capital, whose accounts were most recently taken over by UBS Group AG.

This is where what would have been another legal drama in Justice’s long saga turns into farce. Because Bluestone’s lawyers basically said, “You can’t give this helicopter to a Russian oligarch, because our client owes way more money to other international companies. If anything, they should get first dibs on the helicopter.”

Reality truly is stranger than fiction; a play could never pull off such a sharp turn into the absurd.  It would be funny if this didn’t involve the leader of our state, someone who is also hoping to represent us on the national stage.

Justice usually calls this kind of coverage a “political attack,” but Justice brought scrutiny upon himself when he ran for public office. We expect — and the law requires — a certain amount of transparency. So long as he continues to pursue politics, Justice’s financial entanglements will continue to be matters of public interest and record. Which means we’ll all be privy to how this plays out in Act 5.