Rosemarie Sant/Joel Julien
Three months after Sural officials visited T&T to lobby Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to restart its Alutech aluminium downstream project, a board chaired by Prof Ken Julien has been set up to review options for the project which was originally linked to the Alutrint Smelter in La Brea.
The Energy sub-committee of Cabinet approved the appointment of government's energy adviser Julien to head the board. Government officials are confirming that while Alutech is on the cards, the originally planned smelter is "definitely off the table and will not be restarted."
But even as Government is set to launch into the project with Alutech, T&T and Sural (Barbados) Ltd are in a legal battle at the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida before Judge K Michael Moore.
Sural took T&T to court seeking US$56 million in damages in connection with the aluminium smelter project which was scrapped by the PP government in 2010 when it came into power.
The last sitting was on Wednesday, when Sural asked the court for access to key evidence it said would help in its attempts to undo an arbitration tribunal's finding in favour of T&T with respect to the cancelled smelter project.
Last June, the International Chamber of Commerce's (ICC) International Court of Arbitration awarded US$2.4 million in favour of T&T.
The ICC arbitration began in July 2012 and focused on T&T's alleged obligation to buy out Sural.
On Friday, Energy Minister Nicole Olivierre confirmed that the Ken Julien-appointed board had been mandated to "review all aspects of the feasibility of the project" and while she did not elaborate, she confirmed there will be "no smelter." Among the issues which the board would have to look at before the project moves forward is that of employment opportunities.
Olivierre did not respond to queries on how soon the project would be restarted and the cost to the Government.
Sources said part of the deal was the request for a write-off of a US$50 million debt owed by Alutrint to Government. Asked specifically about this, Olivierre said: "I have no knowledge of that."
This latest development followed the April visit to this country by a high-powered team from the Venezuelan-based Sural Company to lobby PM Rowley to restart the Alutech project.
During that visit, Sural's president Alfredo Riviere, director of the Sural Group Edgard Romero and Alutech director Dave Bhaijoo advised the Prime Minister and his team that they had invested US$20 million in the project at the Tamana In-Tech Park in Wallerfield before the project was stopped.
The Sural officials had indicated then that they had already purchased high-tech equipment for the plant which was stored in two warehouses on the compound. They also made a presentation to the Prime Minister and his team on the production of high-quality aluminium downstream products. The Guardian had reported this exclusively.
This newspaper learnt that there had been subsequent discussions on the restart of the project.
The initial Alutech project was linked to the Alutrint Smelter Plant which was to have been constructed at the La Brea Industrial Estate.
The smelter project, which started under the Patrick Manning PNM administration, faced major protests and heavy criticisms. Environmentalist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, physicist Dr Peter Vine and concerned residents of La Brea had expressed concern about the pollution that would be caused by the construction of the smelter plant in Union Village. Former AG Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and the Oilfieds Workers' Trade Union had also joined in the march against the smelter.
What Alutech produces
Alutech produces aluminium rims and other downstream products using patented technology. Alutrint Smelter was to have produced hot metal for Alutech to make a number of downstream products, including wheel rims. Asked where the material will now come from, Olivierre said the project will require "imported ingots" for the production of the downstream products.
The Alutech centre was to be the first of its kind in the Caribbean with robots playing a key role in the manufacture of pressed aluminium coils, billets and wheel rims.
Alutech also boasts that the technology used for the industrial production of cast aluminium products allows for minimum waste and a high degree of precision using highly calibrated and automated machinery.
JULIEN'S ROLE IN SURAL
Julien was the head of the Natural Gas Task Force and chairman of the National Energy Corporation between 2007 and 2010, and he was the lead person in the then PNM government's discussions; he was instrumental in performing due diligence on Sural.
In a statement to the Parliament in May 2015, former finance minister Larry Howai said the former PNM government had spent US$75 million ($474.4 million) on the Alutrint project.
During the arbitration tribunal former attorney general Anand Ramlogan, Leroy Mayers, Colleen Murray, Adrian Bernard and expert witness David Stern (chartered accountant and partner of StoneTurn LLP, UK) appeared as witnesses for T&T.
The witnesses for Sural were Prof Ken Julien, Dr Alfredo Riviere, Renda Butler, and expert witness Christopher Stobart (UK commodities expert).
The arbitrators were Lord Collins as president (former judge of the United Kingdom Supreme Court); Charles N Brower, who was a judge in the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal at the Hague; and Ali Malek QC.
ROWLEY WAS CONCERNED
In 2014, the then opposition leader and now Prime Minister Dr Rowley had raised concerns about a US$100 million claim in the US from Sural.
In April 2015, former attorney general Garvin Nicholas said he was awaiting the judgement in the second Sural arbitration in which Sural Barbados had sued the State for over US$700 million.