By Pia A. Gaarder
The investigation of the allegded corruption concerning the energy supply in Uganda continue, and according to an article in The Guardian in the beginning of November the most active part is the fraud unit of the US department of justice. They have centred their investigations on London because the contractor, AES, carried out the project from the office in the London neighbourhood Richmond.
According to The Guardian the investigators have found evidence that the Nordic consortium Norpak Power in 1998 hired the lobbyfirm Amisa Consultants Ltd. run by the British citizen Madhusudan Gheewale who is of Ugandan Asian origin.
Last summer the home of Gheewales was searched by the police, which resulted in the finding of a fax adressed to Kristian Mathismoen in Veidekke. In the fax, dated 13. November 1999, Gheewales asked Veidekke for payment for servises provided by the lobbying firm. In the fax Amisa takes credit for making ugandan politicians blocking the Bujagali-project three times.
Lobbyism or corruption?
Norpak was at the time lobbying to build a rival dam, the Karuma-project. But at the end of the year, Veidekke had, according to The Guardian, changed their strategy and started negotiations with AES to become the main contractor for Bujagali.
Gheewale wrote that he had been working to get his Ugandan friends to turn away from Karuma to the Bujagali-project, and that he had promised them a reward. All this he had done at the request of Norpak, Gheewale claims.
In the fax Gheewale seems to complain over Norpak that is not paying enough: “In order to secure your position we have made numerous financial commitments to senior Ugandans that cannot be met by your proposal last week”.
Fax already known
The article concerning the corruption of Ugandan politicians in The Guardian is entirely based on the fax from Gheewale to an executive of Veidekke, Kristian Mathismoen. To NorWatch Mathismoen confirms that Amisa was hired for doing lobby-work, but he stresses that this was to be done within legal terms.
Mathismoen is now retired after 36 years in Veidekke. He says to NorWatch that he has explained every word in the fax to the Norwegian anti-fraud organisation, the US department of justice, FBI and the Ugandan IGG (Inspector General of Government). He has all the times been interrogated as a witness, and not as suspected for corruption. For the sixth time he agrees to tell his version, but for the first time not to investigators, but to a press organ.
- I can confirm that a company in London was contacted in connection with the building of a energy plant in Uganda. Already before I got involved in the project, there was established a deal conserning lobbyism between Amisa and the participants of the Karuma-project – where Norpak was involved, Mathismoen tells NorWatch.
In 1999 Mathismoen was responsible for Veidekke in the Karuma-project. Later he became head of the consortium that where to build the Bujagali powerplant. More or less the same companies participated in the two projects.
No cure, no pay
- The deal with Amisa was a so called “no cure, no pay”-agreement where the lobby-firm only gets paid if the commission is closed in a positive way. The Karuma-project lost in the competition with the Bujagali-project, and were never realised; and for that reason we never paid any money to Amisa, says Mathismoen.
- Since the same companies that lost Karuma joined the consortium that was going to build Bujagali, isn’t it more likely that Amisa was lobbying for both projects?
- No, beetween the Amisa and the Bujagali consortium there were never any agreements. In the Karuma-project Norpak was the developer, but in Bujagali it was the American company AES. We didn’t need to hire anyone to lobby for us in Bujagali; AES had taken care of it, Mathismoen tells NorWatch.
And he continue:
- Amisa had been working more or less a year for the Karuma-project, before I started as the representative for Veidekke. When I received the fax, it seemed to me that Amisa wanted to tell me what had been going at an earlyer stage, and that they exaggerated their own role. When I came into the project, I got the impression that Amisa had been doing very little.
- In the fax Amisa clearly states that they have received an offer and that they are not satisfied with it. It seems as if you had offered the lobbyfirm a payment that they didn’t find high enough. What exactly was this offer?
- It is true that I was in contact with Amisa before I received the fax. We concidered hiring Amisa as a consultant during the upstart in Uganda. The deal was to be different, and the firm should be paid on an hourly basis. Amisa was clearly not satisfied with this deal. Later on we found out that we could manage without the help of any consultants, and we didn't follow up this idea, concludes Mathismoen.
When NorWatch contacted the chief prosecutor in the Norwegian anti fraud unit, Lars Stoltenberg, he was not interested in disscussing the investigation, and certainly not any fax.
- I cannot go into details about the investigation. What I can tell you is that we have been looking through a great material in this case, and that the investigation has gone far beyond what is known in the media. The transaction of 10.000 dollar has only been part of the investigation, and we have been searching in a broad manner for evidence that crime has been commited, that is: if money have been paid or if there have been promised unauthorized benefits to foreign civil servants. Based on this investigation we dismissed the case because of the state of the evidence, Stoltenberg says.
- And that means?
- We have not found any evidence beyond reasonable doubt that there have been commited any crime. In these cases you have to get evidence that is almost 100 percent sure, and we didn’t find it.
- If there were to appear new strong evidence of corruption in the case of Veidekke, will you start a new investigation?
- The law gives us that opportunity, but then it needs to be completely new evidence that we had no access to earlier in the investigation, says Stoltenberg.
After the statements that Kristian Mathismoen has made to NorWatch, it is clear that the Norwegian anti fraud organisation already has considered the fax from Amisa to Veidekke. This fax alone will not represent any new evidence for the Norwegian anti fraud unit.