Published On: Tue, Feb 25th, 2020

3-year sentence for former Curaçao refinery manager

Roderick van Kwartel

PHILIPSBURG — A former general manager of Curaçao’s Isla refinery asked 5 million dollars in bribes from a Dutch company that wanted to become the new operator of the state-owned plant. The money was never paid. Instead, Count Energy Trading from Rotterdam reported the bribe attempts. The judge has sentenced former Isla-director Roderick van Kwartel to three years in jail.

Van Kwartel did not act alone. A company consultant and two employees of the refinery were also served jail sentences, 2.5 years each. The former general manager and accomplices argued at the hearing that they were innocent of bribery because they wanted to expose the representative of Count Energy Trading in Curaçao, Colás Juan Alejandro Bos. Without informing the official tendering team, they organized several private meetings with Bos, which they had kept secret from Refineria di Korsou (RdK), the government nv that owns the refinery. Van Kwartel stated that they wanted to investigate the reliability of Count.

The Court of First Instance does not believe the statements. “This ‘unmasking plan’ has not been discussed at any time within RdK, which would have been logical to do. RdK was also incorrectly and incompletely informed afterwards. Also in the correspondence between the suspects it does not appear that their actions took place within the framework of such a plan.”

The General Court finds the interpretation of the events to be completely unbelievable and concludes that the proposal made by the suspects on 23 August 2018 is not part of any unmasking plan. The judge refers to what is literally stated in that proposal, namely asking for millions of dollars in bribes, in exchange for getting an agreement between Refineria di Korsou and Count/AOT.

The search for a new strategic partner for RdK by the Curaçao government first failed when the government scrapped a preliminary agreement with China’s Guangdong Zhenrong Energy (GZE) to operate the aging Isla refinery, saying the company misrepresented itself and was unable to take on such a large endeavor. In spite of all the problems it faced, amid U.S. sanctions and mounting debts, the Venezuelan state-run PdVSA still showed interest to continue its operations in Curacao after the contract with RdK expired. But in 2018 two new candidates presented themselves: Motiva and Count Energy Trading with AOT Energy as American partner.

Motiva eventually dropped out of the bidding process. Count Energy Trading reported the bribe attempts and the government hired Ivy Corporate Defense & Investigations to do an enquiry. The investigators’ final report dated January 23, 2019, found that there was a parallel process in addition to the bidding process in which irregularities occurred. This report notes that Van Kwartel was involved.
Roderick van Kwartel (54) and consultant Ashley Isidora (53) were arrested in June last year. A month earlier, Van Kwartel was fired. He had been general manager for barely 15 months, and less than a year active. He was suspended for the rest of the time pending the results of the investigation.

Van Kwartel had been working at the Curaçao refinery for 30 years when he was appointed general manager. He graduated in Chemical Engineering from Delft University of Technology in 1987 and started working for Refineria Isla that same year, at the age of 22. He further qualified in various positions throughout the company. It took 30 years before he was promoted to management in the role of Maintenance and Services Manager or Refineria Isla. He assumed that position on January 1st, 2018. Then suddenly, a week later, he became the general manager.

The chairman of the Supervisory Board of RdK, Gilbert Martina, spoke highly of Roderick van Kwartel. The board welcomed Van Kwartel as the second general manager while Jose van den Wall Arnemann still held the position of general manager of Refineria di Korsou. Martina, former general manager of ENNIA and currently the managing director of the new Curaçao Medical Center, attributed a high degree of integrity to Van Kwartel. The new general manager was given the responsibility of contracting a partner that is technically and financially sound, and also actively respects the principles of corporate social responsibility.

According to the Court of First Instance, Van Kwartel and his companions took advantage of the high positions that two of them occupied within RdK solely to serve their own financial interests. “A bribery scandal of this magnitude is detrimental to the image of the Country of Curaçao, which could deter future investors,” the Court stated.

Curacao Isla Refinery 3