Published On: Mon, Jun 4th, 2018

Refinery investigates corruption in case of failed deal with Chinese

The Refinery of Curaçao is investigating whether corruption took place in a failed deal last year. Recently, the administration of the former director of the refinery and the project manager who arranged the failed agreement with a Chinese company have been seized. This was confirmed by those involved in the investigation.

oil refineryWILLEMSTAD - The Isla refinery is a heavily outdated and polluting, but economically important company in the middle of the island. The refinery is operated by the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, but the lease contract expires next year and Curaçao is therefore looking for a new operator. Not easy, because a new operator must first renovate the refinery considerably, which will cost around 5 billion dollars.

In 2016, the Chinese company Guangdong Zhenrong Energy (GZE) was suddenly brought in as a candidate operator of the refinery, which is owned by Curaçao. The company promised to invest billions in the complex and said it had the support of Chinese state-owned companies. But at the end of 2017, the government broke the contracts with GZE: apparently the company had misrepresented itself.

Due to the strategic location near the natural deep-sea harbor, the acquisition is a sensitive issue. That is why the Dutch government and intelligence services also keep a close eye on developments around the refinery, says someone involved in this process, but wants to remain anonymous because he is not permitted to disclose any information concerning this case. The Netherlands does not like to have the Chinese in such a strategic location.

The current director, Roderick van Kwartel, is also not enthusiastic about a Chinese partner; the Chinese try to take positions everywhere according to him. “They are interested in everything. They buy everything. And our refinery is very strategically located between America and the rest of the world. And there's a very good natural deep-sea port.”

After the failed deal with the Chinese, the Government Accountancy Agency investigated the project team that had negotiated with GZE. That team was led by Werner Wiels, brother of the murdered politician Helmin Wiels. The audit firm concluded that the project team had never seriously investigated GZE. The Chinese company turned out to have only 56 million dollars in capital.

Within the project team there was talk of funds misappropriation. Financial administration was missing. Expenses could not be accounted for. Employees of the team traveled to and from China. External note takers were hired at top rates, but the minutes were untraceable.

Werner Wiels

Werner Wiels

As a result of the report, the then director of the refinery was dismissed. Project manager Wiels also stepped down. Recently, the refinery seized important financial documents from these two individuals. Wiels also appeared to use his private mail for his work. He refused to release the documents, but a judge ruled on Thursday that this material may be used to see how the agreements with the Chinese came about.

Wiels says in a reaction by mail that stories about bribery are 'politically motivated myths' and that 'selective' information is leaked to put him in a 'bad light'.

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