Bribery allegations untrue, dredging giant says

Royal Boskalis Westminster, a key partner in Chatham Rock Phosphate's deepsea mining plans, says allegations of Central American corruption involving a subsidiary are untrue.

Boskalis's subsidiary Riovia has been bumped off its $US1 million-a-month dredging contract of the Martin Garcia canal, shared between Argentina and Uruguay, over bribery allegations.

Reports from Central American media say that at a posh lunch there were suggestions of a $US1 million kickback if Riovia was favoured with a contentious channel-deepening contract by extending its existing maintenance contract.

The incident sparked a diplomatic incident, with Argentina's foreign minister Hector Timerman accusing Uruguay of not co-operating in an investigation.

Uruguay responded by asking for the allegations to be repeated in court.

'Suspect and fishy'

Boskalis spin doctor Martijn Schuttevaer told NBR ONLINE neither government has proved the allegation.

"There was never an offer made so there's nothing to investigate," he says from the Netherlands.

"The political agenda underlying the deepening of the channel makes the whole thing suspect and fishy."

He says the company has taken the word of its representative at the meeting that an offer wasn't made.

Argentina and Uruguay share management of the so-called River Plate channels but Mr Schuttevaer says only Uruguay has an economic interest in deepening the Martin Garcia channel.

He confirmed Riovia's 15-year maintenance contract has not been extended following the scandal.

"We have been caught in the crossfire of a political dispute."

Investigation reopened

An English translation of a report in Argentinian paper La Nacion says federal judge Claudio Bonadio, who binned the investigation in December, reopened the case last month.

Further coverage of Boskalis's recent commercial history – including legal battles on three continents sparked by the sinking of the world's largest dredge near a Chinese port – appears in today's new-look print edition of the National Business Review.

In the newspaper, Boskalis's New Zealand project manager, Gerard van Raalte, details the company's plans for a mining ship, to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, to mine phosphate off the Chatham Rise seafloor.

In other news, business editor Duncan Bridgeman exposes the case of an Auckland-based infant milk powder exporter which has fallen over after its Chinese customer cancelled an order after incorrect labelling.

Economics editor Rob Hosking highlights a global battle against so-called "profit shifting" by multinational companies, including those with New Zealand operations.

dwilliams@nbr.co.nz

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