Mamtek U.S. Inc.’s problems followed Gov. Jay Nixon to China this week when a Beijing businessman who handled Mamtek investments for Chinese families told a member of Nixon’s trade delegation that the situation makes him “once bitten, twice shy” about Missouri projects.
Larry Wang, president of Well Trend United Inc., met Monday in Beijing with Kansas City attorney Spencer Thomson, Well Trend Vice President Victor Lum said yesterday. The meeting was arranged by Tom Smith of Capital Business Development Associates, the consulting firm that helped Mamtek select Moberly as a factory site to produce sucralose, an artificial sweetener.
Thomson, of the Husch Blackwell law firm, is one of 64 people who joined Nixon and his wife on the trade mission. Nixon announced Monday that he had signed a trade deal worth $4.4 billion over three years to encourage Missouri exports to China.
Thomson was visiting Wang to pitch a property development project in Central Missouri, Lum said. The developers want to attract Chinese investment via the EB-5 immigration program that allows investors to move to the United States.
“Mr. Wang told him, ‘I hope you can understand our position right now.’ ” Lum said. “We are once bitten, twice shy. He told Mr. Thomson that we are already in one Central Missouri EB-5 project and mentioned our concerns about Mamtek.”
Well Trend had advertised for investors to put their money into Mamtek in exchange for visas. The company found four investors willing to put up $500,000 each, and that money was transferred to Mamtek, Lum said.
Mamtek’s assets are in receivership, and the factory project, which was supposed to employ more than 600 people when finished, is in limbo.
Moberly borrowed $39 million to finance the project, but Mamtek missed a $3.2 million payment due Aug. 1 as the project ground to a halt. The company was slated to receive $17.6 million in state incentives but never completed the necessary paperwork.
Smith received $422,000 from the bond funds, including a $250,000 payment in August 2010 for helping arrange the deal. The rest was for managing the project for Mamtek.
Scott Holste, Nixon’s press secretary, today said, “I don’t have anything for you,” in a reply to an email asking about Smith’s role in arranging Nixon’s itinerary and how Nixon explains Mamtek to potential Chinese investors.
Lum said Thomson listened to Wang’s concerns and said he would “offer us whatever assistance he can in this Mamtek debacle” and promised to arrange a meeting with Nixon. Smith, when he contacted Well Trend on Thursday, also had said he would try to put together a meeting that included Nixon.
Yesterday morning, Ann Pardalos, manager of the International Trade and Investment Office in the Missouri Department of Economic Development, sent Wang an email that said the meeting would have to be canceled.
“I am not able to facilitate or ultimately confirm that you will be able to meet the governor,” Pardalos wrote to Wang, explaining Nixon’s tight schedule after a lunch with the American Chamber of Commerce, Lum said.
But around 1:40 p.m. Beijing time, Thomson called and said he and Nixon were waiting to meet with Wang. Because of the earlier message from Pardalos, Wang was unable to make it before Nixon had to leave Beijing for another appointment.
“I don’t believe it was anything intentional,” Lum said.
Well Trend will advance the four families $500,000 each as it seeks legal recourse against Mamtek’s former CEO, Bruce Cole, and other Mamtek principals to recover the $2 million total, Lum said. Well Trend’s decision to attempt to recover money from Cole is one more financial issue that would have to be cleared up before the project can be restarted.
Cole on Sept. 23 promised to pay Moberly $250,000 by Oct. 3, file a plan for restarting the factory by Oct. 12 and restore the $3.2 million in bond reserve funds used to make the Sept. 1 payment to bondholders. So far, Cole has sent Moberly $45,000 and the written plan.
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