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Feds move to break up Virgin Islands liquor monopoly
Impact International / July 15, 1995

By Larry Luxner

The U.S. Justice Department has ended its five-year probe of monopolistic wholesaling and distribution practices in the Virgin Islands liquor industry.

The federal complaint, issued by the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, alleged that Topa Equities Ltd. of Los Angeles obtained the exclusive Virgin Islands distribution rights to "almost every brand of distilled spirits in the world market, and ... in obtaining and retaining these rights, Topa restrained trade."

Yet Topa, in accepting the Justice Department's settlement, admitted no guilt.

"Topa's decision to settle this matter involves no finding or acknowledgement of any wrongdoing," said company lawyer Maria Hodge in a prepared statement. "What the government fails to note is that Topa has been successful because it has served both its suppliers and its customers so well. Nonetheless, it has accepted this settelment in order to end what has been a significant drain on the company's resources."

Topa is a holding company that wholly owns West Indies Corp. and Bellows International Ltd. Topa has annual sales of around $25 million and accounts for 96% of the liquor sold on St. Thomas, a major duty-free shopping mecca. Among other things, the lawsuit alleged that "retailers of distilled spirits have been deprived of the benefits of free and open competition, in that Topa is their only source for almost all distilled spirits and there are no alternative sources in the Virgin Islands for competing distilled spirits."

In the court judgment, Topa agreed to allow its suppliers of distilled spirits to deal with other wholesalers and not interfere with the business operations of its competitors. The agreement also provides a legal forum for liquor retailers, suppliers and wholesalers to file complaints if Topa violates the terms of the judgment.

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