Is Baard’s investor, Planck Trading, really a front for India’s JSW Steel?

COLUMBUS — On October 18, Tracy Drake, Columbiana County Port Authority CEO, announced that Baard Energy had “found a Florida-based investment firm to put up the money to purchase the property [for a proposed coal refinery]…  [Planck Trading LLC of Boca Raton, Florida] intended to pay the estimated $5 million to close on the option agreements instead of the port authority. “According to documents provided by Drake, Planck Trading is owned by Perian Salviola, who led a group of investors in acquiring more than 100 million tons of high quality metallurgical reserves, which were sold to a leading steel producer in India. Salviola and his partners currently own one of the coal industry’s premier high-wall mining companies in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia. They also own coal reserves in Kentucky.”

Then, six days later, Baard Energy CEO John Baardson inflated Planck’s investment by a factor of 500, according to WKBN-TV Youngstown: “Just this week, a Florida company invested $2.5 billion to help Baard buy more than 500 acres just off State Route 7, bringing the $6-billion plant and thousands of jobs, one step closer to reality.” Baardson said a groundbreaking is planned for spring.

Planck turns out to be a nest of companies:

Planck Trading Solutions

Planck Trading Solutions, incorporated by Perian Salviola on December 18, 2008, is at 5301 N Federal Hwy, Suite 380, Boca Raton, FL 33487.

Planck Holdings

Plank Holdings, incorporated by Perian Salviola on April 9, 2009, was at the same address, Suite 380. On August 19, 2010, there was a merger of “Planck Holdings LLC, a non-qualified Florida organization with and into Planck Holdings LLC, a qualified West Virginia Limited Liability Company, the survivor,” according to the West Virginia Secretary of State. The new address for Planck Holdings is 407 Prosperity Road, Beckley WV 25801.

The “organizer” of the merger was W. Christopher Schaeper, Thompson and Knight law firm, 333 Clay Street, Suite 3300, Houston, Texas 77002. Schaeper’s bio says he “represented a New Delhi-based conglomerate of steel companies in the $1 billion sale of three U.S. companies and related assets that owned and operated a steel plate mill, large diameter pipe mill, and double jointing mill in Baytown, Texas, to the U.S. affiliate of another global steel concern based in Mumbai, India.” This sounds like the Jindal South West (JSW) Steel mill in Baytown. Mumbai-based Jindal bought the pipe mill in 1992 and the plate mill in 1997. The two managers of the merged company are listed as Sandeep Agarwal, at the Beckley address, and Perian Salviola, at the Boca Raton address. The phone number is (713) 653-8804, which is the Thompson and Knight law firm. Sandeep Agarwal is a Deputy General Manager for Finance and Administration at JSW Steel in the Charleston, WV area, according to his Linked-In profile.

Periama Holdings

Periama Holdings was registered in West Virginia on July 21, 2009. Its address is 407 Prosperity Road, Prosperity (Beckley), West Virginia 25909. Its manager is Sandeep Agarwal, at the Prosperity address. Its organizer is Perian Salviola at the Boca Raton address. The LookupBook listing for this firm shows the same Boca Raton address, but a Martin P. Sheehan as the contact.

Prime Coal

Prime Coal was registered in West Virginia on September 23, 2009 at the Prosperity WV address. Its manager is Sandeep Agarwal, at the Prosperity address. Its organizer is Perian Salviola at the Boca Raton address. In the LookupBook listing, Martin P. Sheehan is listed as the contact. Prime Coal was registered in Kentucky on April 1, 2009, with its principal office listed at the Boca Raton address, Suite 380. On May 5, 2010, it filed an address change to Suite 600 in the same building. Perian Salviola is named its managing member. On June 3, 2009, Perian Salviola applied for authorization for Prime Coal to transact business in Florida at the Boca Raton address. On September 24, 2010, the State of Florida revoked its authorization for failure to submit an annual report.

Prime Solar

Incorporated in December 2007 by Perian Salviola at the same Boca Raton address. It changed its name on May 19, 2008, to International Energy Solutions, Inc.

JSW Steel and coal refineries

On Sep 10, 2008, The Economic Times of New Delhi reported on a “bandwagon of companies setting up projects to convert coal into oil.” It said that JSW was in the race for a coal-to-liquids project led by Oil India.

On March 7, 2009, Jindal Steel announced that the Government of India had allotted the Ramchandi Promotional Coal Block to Jindal for a proposed coal-to-liquid project. Another coal block went to Tata Sons-Sasol for a similar project. Jindal says it will invest “close to USD 8.4 billion” on the project.

September 29, 2010: “Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) appears to land up in a new trouble. The coal ministry has discovered that the firm is not utilizing several coal blocks allocated to them. The ministry is of the view these coal blocks continue to remain idle and hence they should be taken away. JSPL had bagged the Rs. 45,000-crore project for converting coal to liquid fuel (or CTL) in 2009. Since then, the massive Ramchandi coal block in Orissa meant for the project is lying idle. Sources say, the coal ministry has opined for the de-allocation of the block… Project of converting coal into liquid fuel could have been one of the solutions to address India’s growing energy needs. But even before the project could take off, it is on the verge of a crash landing. And now JSPL will have to do something drastic to save the project as coal ministry is really not convinced that any work has been underway in the coal mines since it was allotted to JSPL,” according to New Delhi TV Profit.

Meanwhile, some Indians are raising familiar questions about investing in coal refineries.

JSW Steel and Massey Energy

On May 15, 2010, the Economic Times of India reported, “MUMBAI: JSW Steel, the Mumbai-based company which, like other metal-bashers from India, is aggressively scouting the world for raw material to feed its expanding steel-making capacities, on Friday completed the acquisition of nine coking coal mines in West Virginia in the US. It will pay in the range of $200-250 million (Rs 900-1,125 crore) for the mines, said people familiar with the development. The Sajjan Jindal-controlled steel company, which did not mention the name of the company that owns the mines, nor the size of the transaction, said the nine mines have combined reserves of 123 million tonnes. Coking coal is a key raw material for steel mills and accounts for 40% of the total cost of steel-making. Referring to the coal mines in West Virginia, a JSW Steel official said: “These mines have a railway load and barge facility which reduces the cost of production and transportation of the coking coal.”

On September 28, 2010, Massey Energy filed a $648 million federal lawsuit against JSW Steel: “Massey Sales and JSW are parties to a Coal Purchase and Sale Contract dated June 25, 2008. Pursuant to the Contract, Massey agreed to sell, and JSW agreed to buy, a minimum of 3,600,000 metric tons of hard coking coal… JSW breached a repudiated the Contract by failing and refusing to purchase any coal from Massey pursuant to the Contract.”

Oct 14, 2010: Bloomberg reported that JSW Steel Ltd is considering putting its overseas coal and iron ore assets into a unit for a share sale to fund expansion. Two people familiar with the plans said that the unit would control coal and iron ore mines in the US and Chile, as well as an exploration business in Mozambique. They said that JSW may list the unit in an overseas exchange without giving a timeframe. Mr. Andrew Harrington analyst of Paterson’s Securities Ltd said that a raw material spin off by an Indian company would be unusual and its success would depend on the asset location. Mr. Harrington said that “Except for Mozambique, it doesn’t sound as though these would be the most interesting areas for coal development. The trend out of India has been to acquire things overseas rather than sell them once they’ve been acquired.” JSW Steel bought seven coking coal mines in May in the US with reserves of about 123 million tonnes. In Chile, the company’s Bellavista iron ore mines, acquired in 2008, are likely to start production by December.

 Paul Ryder, Organizing Director, Ohio Citizen Action