May 20, 2016 – Farms are known for a couple of things…mud and manure, and according to a Vermont newspaper, there appear to be plenty of both flying around WhistlePig Farm, the home of Raj Peter Bhakta’s WhistlePig Rye. The Burlington Free Press reports Bhakta is engaged in a legal dispute with at least two of the minority stakeholders in WhistlePig who voted to remove him from the company’s operations earlier this month.
According to the report by Free Press reporter Dan D’Ambrosio, board members Christopher Evison and Wilco Faessen called a special board meeting in New York City to level six charges against Bhakta with the goal of removing him as operating manager. Bhakta controls three of the six seats on the WhistlePig board and was not present at the meeting, but Evison and Faessen cited language in the company’s bylaws to force Bhakta to recuse himself from voting on the issue because of the allegations against him. With a third board member also absent, the bylaws allowed Evison and Faessen to form a quorum and vote to dismiss Bhakta. Two of the charges stem from Bhakta’s arrest in April of 2015 on suspicion of driving while intoxicated and his later guilty plea to “the criminal offense of negligent operation of a motor vehicle.” The dissident board members also accuse Bhakta of secretly promising an equity stake in the company to marketing director Danhee Kim, whom he later married, and claim that he used marijuana on company property.
Bhakta has filed a lawsuit in Delaware, where WhistlePig is incorporated, seeking to overturn the board’s action and remain in charge of the distillery’s operations until the dispute is tried in court. According to the Free Press, Bhakta denies all of the allegations and in his complaint, called the equity stake award to his future wife a “good faith oversight” that was later ratified by the board of directors. Bhakta has not returned WhiskyCast’s request for an interview, but told D’Ambrosio that Faessen and Evison threatened him in April that they would move against him if he didn’t agree to put WhistlePig up for sale. Bhakta provided the Free Press with a redacted copy of his complaint, which is not available to download through the court’s web site.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Dan D’Ambrosio:
According to the Free Press, Faessen is a managing director at Barclays in New York, personally owns 15 percent of the company, and helped bring in the Santo Domingo family of Colombia, which owns another 12 percent of the company and is one of the largest shareholders in beer giant SABMiller. Faessen also describes himself as a “co-founder” of WhistlePig on his LinkedIn biography, a claim Bhakta disputed during his interview with the Free Press. Evison is a managing director and chief investment officer at New York-based Quadrant Capital Advisors, which oversees the Santo Domingo family’s investments and an estimated $15 billion fortune. Both joined the WhistlePig board at a time when Bhakta needed additional capital to build the company and sold equity stakes that reduced his personal stake in the company to around 50 percent.
Attorneys for Faessen and Evison declined to comment to the Free Press, and they have not filed a response to Bhakta’s lawsuit in the Delaware Chancery Court. WhiskyCast has contacted both men for their side of the story, but have not received a response from either yet.
This story will be updated with additional information as necessary.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include additional information and audio from an interview with Dan D’Ambrosio of the Burlington Free Press. Note that in all civil cases, accusations made in court filings only represent one side’s position and should not be considered as proven facts until ruled upon in court.