Editorial: The only solution is transparency

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Those of you of a certain age were probably flooded with memories of the ’60s television sitcom, Hogan Heroes, and the bungling sergeant-of-the-guard, Sergeant Hans Schultz, when you heard every politician disavowed any knowledge of Dieter Trutschler. Shultz, who was more friend than foe to the allied prisoners that he guarded in a German prisoner of war (POW) camp during World War II, was famous for saying, “I hear nothing! I see nothing! I know nothing!” whenever confronted with evidence of the shenanigans of Colonel Hogan and his crew of volunteer prisoners.  
Today, when confronted with the name of Dieter Trutschler, our politicians and others are doing their best Shultz impersonation. Except, it is hard to believe that Trutschler could slip under the radar so easily when the Swiss company that he works for, the mecco Group, was a 50 percent partner in P.V. Energy – the company that secured several solar projects in Antigua, including the highly publicised installation at the airport.
According the the mecco Group website, mecco.net, “In October 2010, The mecco Group and the London-based property management company B&S Property have officially founded PV Energy Limited as a joint venture in the United Kingdom. meeco’s partnership with one of the biggest real estate and property management companies in the UK enhances the companies’ business in the UK as well as in the Caribbean and Indian market.” By now, you either know or have guessed that B&S Property is, or rather was, Peter Virdee – it is now apparently owned by his father.  The mecco Group is reported to be owned by Trutschler’s wife.
The close association and partnership between Virdee and Trutschler is cemented in the blog on P.V. Energy’s website, pvenergyltd.com, under the headline “Peter Virdee (B&S Property) and Dieter Trutschler (The meeco Group) founded the joint company PV Energy Ltd.” The close link between the two is further evidenced in the recent and now famous judgement handed down by the London High Court where the men jointly brought action against the National Crime Agency. You know the one. The one where Asot Michael’s name is called.
So, we have Dieter Trutschler, who is the Director of Sales at the 50 percent shareholder of P.V. Energy, the mecco group, who has provided all the technical expertise for the local P.V. Energy installations, and no-one has ever heard of him. “We had no clue,” is what Prime Minister Gaston Browne said when asked if his government knew that Trutschler, was apparently involved in a US $4.3 million fraud scandal over a decade ago. He added, “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.”
Backing him up is the Attorney General who had a similar ‘I know nothing!’ response when asked about Trutschler. Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, went further in his defense and said, the government would “never enter into negotiations” with anyone “under such circumstances”, and “that is why there is due diligence.” An interesting response because the due diligence obviously failed spectacularly.  Trutschler is not a man in the shadows, he is the Director of Sales for mecco group which is 50 percent shareholder in P.V. Energy. And no one can say mecco was a silent partner because there are pictures of Brian Challenger (Ambassador, Ministry of Energy Antigua), Shpresa Azemi (meeco), André Matthias (Manager, Electricity Department, Antigua Public Utilities Authority) and Eric Borremans (meeco) smiling and posing together after winning the award “Best Utility Scale Solar” at the 2017 Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum (CREF).
 Trutschler’s past is not easily hidden as it involved the United Nations and 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. (The document is available online but we will post it for your easy reference.) That is not all.  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.   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.
Now, the glaring question is: what kind of vetting or due diligence do we do for prospective investors? According to the prime minister, it was Asot Michael, the then energy minister, who introduced billionaire Virdee as PV Energy’s principal to the Cabinet and he apparently never mentioned Trutschler. So, was that the end of the due diligence? Was any background checks done on the company and the principals or did we just get blinded by the bling of another ‘billionaire’ and embraced him like the long lost son while rolling out the buffet. 
These latest revelations lead us back to our previous request that all details surrounding Virdee’s, and all associates’ involvement with government be released for public scrutiny. There must be an extreme level of transparency in order to clear the air. What is the financing deal for the solar plants?  How much did we pay? What is the power purchase agreement with Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA)? P.V. Energy and mecco boast that the airport solar plant generated 2.5 million kilowatts of power and over US $1 million in revenue in the first six months of operations. That works out to be in excess of US $$0.40 or about EC $1.10 per kilowatt. Considering APUA offers only EC $0.45 to locals, what is the deal?
These are just a few on a very long list of questions that the public needs to and has a right to know.
OIOS report here.

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