CIRI reports record profits, wins lawsuit

Posted: Tuesday, April 02, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Cook Inlet Region Inc. posted a $434 million profit last year -- a record for an Alaska Native corporation.

That's up from $102 million earned in the previous year.

The Anchorage-based regional Native corporation saw profits swell after it sold off valuable investments in VoiceStream Wireless Corp.

Revenue also skyrocketed, jumping to $857 million, up from $380 million in 2000.

''A milestone,'' said Carl Marrs, CIRI's chief executive, describing the company's success last year. ''It's going to be just impossible to match again for a while.''

CIRI, one of Alaska's most successful Native corporations, will continue to be a cautious but aggressive investor, Marrs said. It is eyeing two potentially lucrative deals, one in oil and gas, the other in jet leasing, the chief executive said. He was reluctant to offer details until the deals are signed.

On another matter, attorneys for CIRI scored a court victory last week in a dispute over a controversial elders program the corporation launched two years ago. Under the program, shareholders 65 and older were given a quarterly dividend of $450.

A small group of shareholders sued, saying the elder dividend violated corporate rules by creating a separate class of shareholders who received special treatment.

''It's a corporate scheme that robs Peter to pay Paul,'' said Petersburg attorney Fred Triem, who represented the plaintiffs.

CIRI is taking roughly $1 million a year that belongs to all shareholders and giving it to a group of 500 elders, Triem said.

''I have nothing against older people. I'm 62 myself,'' he said. But there are other CIRI shareholders, such as single mothers, the unemployed or infirm, who could use the money too. And under corporate law, it's illegal to treat shareholders differently, Triem argued.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act allows the corporation to offer the elder dividends, the court said. In addition, legislative history confirms that Congress intended that Native corporations provide the type of benefits provided by CIRI in this case, the judges ruled.

CIRI plans to send the checks to the elders this week.

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