PM Browne, AG say gov’t knew nothing about PV Energy fraudster

Antigua Observer:  

“We had no clue,” is what Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda said when asked if his government knew that a man who was involved in a US$4.3 million fraud scandal over a decade ago, Jo Hanns Dieter Trutschler, was connected to the United Kingdom (UK) company PV Energy Limited.

“We never met Mr. Trutschler [even] up to this day and had no knowledge of his involvement [in PV Energy]. Peter Virdee was introduced to the Cabinet as the Principal of PV Energy,” Browne replied yesterday when messaged.

Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, Attorney General, said he was similarly unaware of who Trutschler was or his connection to PV Energy. When messaged, Benjamin said the government would “never enter into negotiations” with anyone “under such circumstances.”

“That is why there is due diligence,” the Attorney General declared. Yet, the government’s due diligence, evidently failed to discover that one of the men involved in the company, Trutschler, was reportedly involved in a 2002 fraud scandal in Kosovo.

According to a November 13, 2003 report from the United Nations’ (UN’s) Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), Trutschler illegally diverted US$4.3 million from “the public electricity provider in Serbia” to a bank account under his control in Gibraltar while he was working in Kosovo in 2002.

At the time, he was a senior staff member of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), a job he apparently secured using fake academic qualifications, again according to the U.N. report.

Our newsroom sourced the 2003 document online. It states that in addition to the money which he diverted into accounts he controlled, Trutschler “unlawfully obtained a further amount of €220,000 of UNMIK funds through the submission of false invoices.”

A German citizen, his actions were referred to law enforcement in that country, and he was convicted in Germany for breach of trust, forgery and misuse of an academic title and sentenced to three years and six months in prison.

On Wednesday, the prime minister said that it was Asot Michael, the then energy minister, who introduced PV Energy’s principal, British millionaire and property tycoon Peter Virdee, the public face of PV Energy, to the Cabinet and that Trutschler was never mentioned.

“Trutschler never featured as a principal of PV Energy. If Asot knew, as the Minister of Energy who negotiated with them, he never disclosed,” Browne wrote. However, former Investment and Trade minister Asot Michael did not reply on Wednesday when messaged and asked whether he knew that Trutschler was involved in a fraud scandal in 2002.

Last week, Michael, the Member of Parliament (MP) for St. Peter, resigned his office as minister when transcripts from taped phone calls revealed that he allegedly demanded kickbacks and gifts from Trutschler and Virdee in or around 2016 for mediating the PV Energy solar project. PV Energy is the company responsible for the US$21 million, 10-megawatt solar energy plant at V.C Bird International Airport, which was officially inaugurated in February 2016.

The first part of the project, a 3 MW facility constructed under Michael’s watch, is located on approximately 9 acres of land and includes fully computerised operational and monitoring facilities integrated into the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (AUPA) system control network.

The 10 MW initiative a joint project involving the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment and Energy, the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA), and the UK based PV Energy.

The transcripts of the conversations involving the businessmen – Virdee and Trutschler – and the minister, were included in a May 11 U.K. High Court judgement. It was the same May 11 judgement that revealed Trutschler’s involvement in PV Energy. The document’s authors stated that Trutschler is an “employee” of PV Energy Limited
and that Trutschler’s wife owns a Switzerland-based entity called the Meeco Group, which owns shares in PV Energy.

In the UK court case, Trutschler and Virdee were challenging some of the U.K. National Crime Agency’s (NCA’s) actions in its investigation of the two men for the possible bribery of government officials in the Caribbean.

Virdee was originally arrested in January 2017 on behalf of German law enforcement, which suspected Virdee of involvement in a Value Added Tax (VAT) carousel scam. However, U.K. law enforcement began their own investigation when the German’s provided them with recordings of Virdee’s and Trutschler’s conversations.

Members of the opposition and commentators have called on the government to launch an audit of the PV Energy project, but the administration has not responded to the pleas.

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