In 1996, Tractebel Belgium had paid a bribe of roughly $30 million to access the Kazakh market
One of the foreign firms ‘included’ in the Rebuild Kerala project was debarred by World Bank for 10 months and was forced to make a restitution payment of $325,000, The Lede has found.
Additionally, its parent company in Belgium was reportedly involved in the infamous corruption case in Kazakhstan, dubbed as Kazakhgate.
Following the 2018 floods, which had claimed over 600 lives and caused a loss of around Rs 31,000 crore, the Kerala government had invited global consultancy firms to rebuild Kerala.
And in May 2019, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had gone on a European tour, especially to the Netherlands, to learn their experiences and replicate the success models in Kerala to fight the flood.
Upon returning, the government agreed to initiate a Rebuild Kerala project and also replicate the Netherland’s Room for the River project in Kerala.
Global firms were invited to initiate the project.
Room for the River is a Netherlands government design plan intended to address flood protection, master landscaping, and the improvement of environmental conditions in the areas surrounding the Netherlands' rivers. The project was active in the Netherlands from 2006–2015.
The basic premise of the Room for the River project is to provide more space for the water body so that it can manage extraordinary high-water levels during floods.
Kerala CM had visited the Room for the River project in Noordward in the Netherlands.
Out of the 12 firms listed in Kerala for Rebuild Kerala, four were shortlisted by the Kerala Water Authority and sent to Kerala Secretariat.
However, the file was sent back with two more new companies listed in addition to the four.
The two companies are a joint venture of Tractebel Germany and Tractebel France, and Royal Haskoning DHV.
This was questioned by the Kerala Water Authority and sent back again to Kerala Secretariat.
Interestingly, Viswas Mehta, an additional chief secretary, sent back the file with a note that the two companies should be ‘included’ as they have facilitated Kerala CM’s visit to the Netherlands and that if they were not included, the Kerala-Netherlands relations would be in trouble.
Tractebel Germany is represented in Germany by Tractebel Engineering GmbH, Tractebel Hydroprojekt, Tractebel GKW (formerly GKW Consult) – one of the top international independent consultants for environmental engineering – Lahmeyer Deutschland, Tractebel DOC Offshore GmbH and Tractebel Overdick GmbH.
In 2015, the World Bank Group had debarred GKW Consult GmbH, following the company’s acknowledgment and cooperation with the World Bank’s Integrity Vice Presidency’s (INT) investigation of misconduct in an Urban Sanitation project in Liberia.
GKW Consult GmbH was debarred for 10 months and also forced to make a restitution payment of $325,000 in support of Liberia’s Ebola response efforts.
Interestingly, Tractebel Belgium got embroiled in a money-laundering involving some of its former business partners in Kazakhstan.
In June 1997, Tractebel was granted a 15-year lease to operate Kazakhstan's gas transit system in a deal worth $630 million, while the year before it acquired control of a group of power plants in the former capital, Almaty.
The corruption dubbed as "Kazakh Gate" revolves around citizens of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the most important being Belgian-Kazakh businessman Patokh Chodiev, accused of corruption in an energy deal in 1996 between the Belgian Tractebel firm and Kazakhstan.
Tractebel had reportedly paid a bribe of roughly $30 million, to access the Kazakh market.
Later in 2011, the Cabinet of then French President Nicolas Sarkozy allegedly intervened in Belgium to ensure that Chodiev and his two associates would get off scot-free so that Paris could conclude a large deal with Astana.
The French government was at the time negotiating the sale of 45 helicopters to Kazakhstan.
The report looked into the role of Belgian lawmaker Armand De Decker, who served as Chodiev's lawyer.
De Decker had contacted his colleagues in the various ministries, which may have influenced the passage of the legislation on penal transactions, that Chodiev eventually benefited from.
In 2018, a Belgian parliamentary committee approved a final report on a complex corruption case involving Belgian, French, and Kazakh authorities, with the conclusion that no illegal actions had been detected, but the judicial investigations are still ongoing.
Two judicial cases are pending: one in Paris for money laundering and kickbacks. Several affiliates of Sarkozy were questioned on this case in 2014-2015.
The other investigation opened in Belgium in 2015 and had to be moved from the Brussels court to the city of Mons in 2016 since a high court magistrate is involved.
Interestingly, companies facing bribery charges are finding consultancy roles in Kerala.
In October 2016, The Lede had reported that Louis Berger, a tainted American construction, was given consultancy to prepare a detailed feasibility report to build Sabarimala Airport in Cheruvally Estate.
Louis Berger was facing an FBI case in the US in 2015.
Louis Berger had admitted to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and agreed to pay a $17.1 million criminal penalty to resolve charges that it bribed foreign officials in India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Kuwait to secure government construction management contracts.
And in India, Louis Berger is facing a CBI case for bribing officials in Assam.