By Richard Thomas
The Whiskey Reviewer was informed by a source at WhistlePig that Raj Bhakta, founder of the company and its principal shareholder, was granted a status quo order by a court in Delaware on Friday, June 18. This confirms his control over the company while a dispute with his board is settled by litigation.
The successful Vermont-based whiskey company WhistlePig was rocked three weeks ago when two minority stakeholders in the company, Wilco Faessen and Christopher Evison, called a board meeting, formed a quorum of just themselves, and ousted Bhakta as head of the company, alleging Bhakta had engaged in criminal and irresponsible activity. Bhakta controls three votes by virtue of owning approximately 50% of the company. The fourth board member, Jose Robledo, was not present, so Faessen and Evison represented a minority ownership position. Even so, their actions were technically valid under the company’s bylaws.
Faessen and Evison’s charged Bhakta with DUI and lying to a police officer about it, smoking marijuana on company property, and secretly promising his now-wife an equity stake in the company. The public record at least partly contradicts the first and third charge, and the second goes unsupported at the present time.
Bhakta responded to the board coup by suing in the Court of Chancellery in Delaware, seeking the status quo order awarded Friday.
The pair of recalcitrant board members responded to their defeat in court by sending a letter to the company employees and investors repeating the drunk driving charge and accusing Bhakta of taking “millions” for himself and treating the company as his “personal piggy bank.” They also alleged Bhakta attempted to bribe Evison into resigning from the board with an offer to sell him WhistlePig aged stock at below market prices.
Both Faessen and Evison represent the interests of the Colombian Santo Domingo family as part of their day jobs, and the Santo Domingos also own a sizable stake in the company. For their part, the Santo Domingo clan is familiar with the drinks business as the second largest stakeholder in the global beer distributor SABMiller.
WhistlePig opened in 2010, bottling aged and imported Canadian-made rye whiskey. In 2015, they made the transition to becoming a distillery, and reportedly at least some of the rye used in their mash is grown on the WhistlePig farm itself.