By Troy Torres
Guam businessman Bic Sobti Thursday lied to senators during his legislative confirmation hearing on his appointment to the airport board.
Sen. Telo Taitague asked Mr. Sobti whether he was the subject of investigation in the Commonwealth Legislature over the scandalous sale of $2.5 million in supposed personal protective equipment to the CNMI government at the start of the public health emergency there.
Mr. Sobti replied: "No."
"As a member of the special committee that is reviewing contracts and other expenditures related to the Commonwealth's Covid-19 response, I can confirm that the CNMI's contract with International Royal, dba Royal Bics, is among the contracts under investigation and was scrutinized at length during oversight hearings in the legislature this week," CNMI Congresswoman Tina Sablan said. "I expect that scrutiny to continue, as questions have yet to be answered and additional hearings will be conducted."
Mr. Sobti owns International Royal, which is a Guam company in the business of clothes, uniforms, and tailor retail, not medical supplies. He received a sole source contract from the CNMI government for the sale of PPEs and medical supplies using federal Covid-19 funds. He does not have a business license in the CNMI.
An invoice from International Royal that has been the subject of open investigation by the CNMI House's special committee investigating the use of federal funds shows the company charged the CNMI government triple the rate for the same products other companies charged, nine times the rate at retail in Guam stores, and in one instance, 50 percent more than International Royal sold to the government of Guam.
"There are serious problems with that contract," Congressman Ed Propst said. "No one seems to know how the quote for the contract came about. And the items listed don't even have details, lacking basic information like size or volume. How is it possible Royal Bics charged $22.95 for a box of nitrile gloves while MedPharm charged about one-third the price, at $8?"
According to the invoice, Mr. Sobti had sold 250,000 pieces of generic face masks to the CNMI for $2.99 a piece. He sold the same masks to the Mayors Council of Guam for $2 a piece. Those masks retail in Guam stores for $0.40.
He sold the CNMI 18,000 shirts at an average cost of $25.95 each.
He sold 2,000 boxes of latex gloves for $19.50 a box, and another 2,000 boxes of nitrile gloves for $22.95 a box.
Kandit examined invoices and price quotes other Guam companies sent the government of Guam for the same, or superior quality products. While Mr. Sobti sold boxes of latex gloves for $19.50 a box, MD Wholesale sold GovGuam those boxes for $3.20.
While Mr. Sobti sold the CNMI government generic face masks for $2.99 a piece, MD Wholesale sold superior N-95 masks to GovGuam for $69.75 a case (720 masks), or nine cents a mask. JCME Distributors sold GovGuam surgical face masks for 16 cents a mask.
Mr. Sobti sold 20,000 hand sanitizers to the CNMI government for $11.95 each. MD Wholesale sold 24 hand sanitizers to GovGuam for $1.50 each.
To place this all into perspective, while Mr. Sobti was ripping off the Commonwealth with his sale of a box of 50 generic face masks for $150, Diagnostic Laboratory Services was charging GovGuam only $80 per Covid-19 test. Yes, a diagnostic test cost nearly half of what a box of Mr. Sobti's generic face masks cost the CNMI government.