The epic of the shipyards continues

Boguslaw Kowalski

All those who foresaw that the sale of the assets belonging to the shipyards in Szczecin and Gdynia by the mysterious company from the Dutch Antilles heralded further troubles were right. Since it turns out that the transaction was in some way connected with the long contract in which Poland was obliged to buy liquefied gas. And additionally, the new owner, still little known to the public opinion, did not transfer the money till the agreed time. The behaviour of the government, especially the Minister of Treasury Aleksander Grad who negotiated the contract on behalf of the government, became more nervous. He tried to blame for the failure of the sale the workers of the shipyard in Szczecin who sent information to politicians and new buyers about possible improper actions concerning the privatisation of the shipyard. What was to be a success slowly transforms into a tiring and embarrassing serial of vagueness. And one cannot see a favourable end of the epic of the shipyards.

The slipways in hands of sheiks?

In spite of his earlier assurances Minister Grad did not reveal who the real buyer of the assets of the shipyards in Szczecin and Gdynia was and what conditions were included in the contract. The official buyer was United International Trust, investors registered in the island of Curacao, belonging to the archipelago of the Dutch Antilles. This place is the so-called tax paradise and capital of doubtful reputation is often located there. Let me remind you that the world leaders discussing the reasons and ways to fight against the economic crisis show the necessity to limit the activities of these oases of tax freedom. However, the government made calming assurances that ‘trustworthy capital’ from Qatar supported that contract. Qatar is a small country, having the area of a Polish voivodship, located in the Arabian Peninsula, with the population of about one million. But this desert country has large oil and gas deposits. It earns huge profits on oil and gas drilling and exploration. Qatar is the biggest exporter of liquefied gas. Every year it has a budget surplus of hundreds of millions of dollars. It invests this money in various enterprises in the world through other financial institutions. One of such institutions is QInvest that boasts of assets of 1 billion dollars. It is this institution that was to represent United International Trust, the above-mentioned ‘trustworthy capital’ from Qatar. This reliability is to be guaranteed by the son of Qatar’s Prime Minister who presides over the Supervisory Board of QInvest. Qatar is a classical monarchy, without any parliament and political parties. The al-Thani family has ruled there since 1971 when Qatar regained independence from the British. The Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber al-Thani, nominated by the emir, belongs to that family and his son, young sheik Jassim is a board member of several institutions dealing with foreign Qatari investments.

The investor does not pay

Acting on behalf of United International Trust, the unknown entity Stichting Particulier Fonds Greenrights was to pay ca. 380 million zloty for the shipyards (ca. 280 million zloty for Gdynia and ca. 100 million zloty for Szczecin) until 21 July. But it did not do it and was to ask the government to extend this deadline, which was agreed upon and the new deadline was pushed back to 17 August. The governmental officials say that the investor used the argument that they wanted to make additional audits to eliminate potential legal defects of the sale. Minister Grad used this justification to accuse the Association of Defence of the Shipyards and Shipbuilding Industry, which was allegedly to cause this delay by their activities. This association gathers social activists and shipyard workers. They had sent letters to politicians and media before the contract was finalised. The Chairman of the Association Lech Wydrzynski, who signed these letters, claims that in the year 2002 the government used illegal means to lead to the fall of the Szczecin Shipyard and its assets, which are being sold now, have legal defects. The accusations include statements suggesting possible washing of dirty money during the next privatisations of shipyard companies. This letter was to be read by the Qatari bank and caused their hesitation and additional legal examination. Minister Grad called such activities ‘sabotage’ and sent the matter to the public persecutor and the Internal Security Agency, which was to examine the motives of the authors of the letter. However, these were purely propaganda steps, turning attention away from the serious troubles of the government with the Arab buyers. The experts stress that a serious investor, thinking of such big transactions, gathers reports about all legal aspects before the tender. And the investor does not take any decisions under the influence of such letters. And even if he did the letter of the shipyard workers concerned only the shipyard in Szczecin and the investor did not pay for the shipyard in Gdynia, either. The real reason for stopping this investment was different. Since the Qatari buyer is a capital investor and not a branch investor, he might have had difficulties with winning orders to produce ships. He might have calculated that the interest was not profitable and instead of spending his money he chose to cancel this deal.

Shipyards for gas

An important event was to take place between the settling of the tender concerning the shipyards and the final payment. On 30 June 2009, during the visit of the Polish delegation to Qatar, led by Minister Grad, a contract concerning supplies of liquefied gas to our country was signed; the contract was to last for 20 years. We obliged ourselves to buy 1 million tons of gas at the initial price of 550 dollars a ton. In the next years the price was to depend on the price of oil on the world markets. The contract is profitable for Qatar since another contract signed at that time with some Japanese firms speaks about 450 dollars per ton. The liquefied gas will be supplied to the gas port in Swinoujscie (which is being constructed) by 2014. According to the energy policy of the government this investment together with the guaranteed supplies is to make us independent, at least partially, from the supplies from Russia. The gas will be transported by special gas ships. Therefore, there is a justified presumption that the Polish government made an agreement with the sheiks from Qatar: we buy your gas at a good price but we need special ships to transport it and you will make these ships in our shipyards. Naturally, these several ships will not guarantee the profitability of this project in the future. The new investor should care for it himself. The Polish Ambassador to Qatar Mr Robert Rostek, who participated in the negotiations, did not hide that there was a close relationship between the gas contract and the Qatar investment in our shipyards. Poland fulfilled its obligations. But as we can see the realisation of the second part is seriously difficult. Even if the contract is finalised the character of the buyer, which is not a company producing ships, and only capital fund having speculative aims and seeking the biggest profits, does not give fair promise. The buyer will not surely stay longer in Poland and will sell the assets quickly. And the words of the Prime Minister Donald Tusk that ships will be produced in the shipyards in Szczecin and Gdynia may become another unfulfilled promise.

"Niedziela" 32/2009

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: