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2006-04-05 16:34:11

Bahamas Government Monitoring AES Lawsuit

Dominican government suit alleges that AES, the company that wants to build an LNG facility in The Bahamas, engaged in corrupt practices.

Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson told The Bahama Journal recently that, should the Christie Administration decide to "pursue" liquefied natural project (LNG), the government "very clearly" would not ignore the allegations against AES Corporation by the government of the Dominican Republic.

AES is one of the companies seeking approval from the Bahamas government to construct an LNG project in this country.

On March 23, the Dominican government filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court in Virginia demanding a jury trial of the AES Corporation, three AES subsidiaries and an independent contractor named Silverspot Enterprises run by Richard Fina.

The suit alleges that between 2003 and 2004, AES Corporation illegally dumped thousands of tons of industrial waste, through its subsidiaries and Mr. Fina's companies, on beaches in the Dominican Republic.

The suit further alleges that AES engaged in corrupt practices including bribery and death threats to prevent any action being taken against it, and that, as a result of AES Corporation's purported behaviour, Dominicans have gotten sick, and some have died.

AES Vice President of Communications Robin Pence told the Journal on Tuesday that AES has not yet been served with a copy of the Dominican government's lawsuit. Once the energy conglomerate has been served, it will consider the complaint against it and then answer in whatever fashion it deems appropriate.

Mrs. Maynard-Gibson said the Bahamas government would consider these allegations carefully in the event that the government decides to pursue LNG, and AES Corporation's bid comes up for consideration.

"Very clearly, we would not ignore allegations made by a government in the Caribbean in similar circumstances as (The Bahamas), and that is dependent on tourism," she said.

"Again, though, it's premature," she cautioned, "because we haven't yet (considered) the proposal by AES, but I would hazard a guess that if such a proposal were to be considered we would look carefully at all of these circumstances."

Bahamas Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe told the Journal that he was "very concerned" about the allegations.

"What we have to pay attention to, always, is what is being said (and) the circumstances. But we'll look at-where we are insofar as this company is concerned, and other companies and we'll evaluate what's being said in the Dominican Republic," Mr. Wilchcombe said.

"And of course," he added, "allegations are allegations. We have to be able to discern what is real and what is not real."

The Dominican government also alleges that the tourism of the two affected Dominican provinces have suffered a 70% drop, directly as a result of the dumping of the ash on beaches in that country.

It is also alleged that the mating and calving habits of the Samana whale population, a popular ecotourism attraction, have been adversely affected by the ash.

Minister Wilchcombe said he was "very concerned" by the reports, but that there has not as yet been any conversation between Bahamian and Dominican tourism officials.

Despite Minister Wilchcombe's concerns over the sharp drop in tourism to two Dominican provinces, he said the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism has not yet made contact with its Dominican counterpart.

"Our greatest asset is what God has given us, and we are going to do all we possibly can to protect it and that is a mandate from the leader of our country, a mandate from the people of our country, and we are not going to in any way breach that," he added.

Mrs. Maynard-Gibson said that government still has yet to announce a decision on whether a liquefied natural gas facility is in order for the Bahamas in the first place.

Therefore, she pointed out, the question of considering bids like the one proposed by AES Ocean LNG, one of a reported 700 plus subsidiaries of AES Corporation, is at this point hypothetical.

"I think we would have to look at companies on a case by case basis, and consider carefully the various actions (a company has allegedly taken)," the attorney general said.

"And certainly in the context of LNG, we would have to consider very carefully the regime that we have in place for regulating and monitoring, also in conjunction with (that company's actions)."

The government would evaluate whether pursuing LNG is the right policy for the country, officials have noted.

"Once that policy has been decided, we will then move to operate within the policy by then examining the relevant proposals, or the various proposals that will or have come forward," the attorney general said.

Mrs. Maynard-Gibson said that an announcement on the propriety of having an LNG facility in the Bahamas is "imminent."

"I think that you will have an announcement imminently about the matter of natural gas in the Bahamas, and after that, there will be consideration of AES and any other proposal," she said.

In December, Prime Minister Perry Christie told The Bahama Journal that no decision had yet been made because he had had concerns about whether having an LNG facility in The Bahamas would negatively impact this country's image as a premier tourist destination.

But he said he was satisfied that those concerns had been addressed and he too had said an announcement regarding LNG was imminent.

By: Quincy Parker, The Bahama Journal

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