By Chris Lang
On 10 January 2017, UK police arrested Peter Singh Virdee, a British businessman, in Heathrow airport. Virdee faced extradition to Germany accused of fraud and €125 million in unpaid VAT on sales of carbon credits.
Virdee’s German lawyers challenged the arrest warrant issued by the District Court of Frankfurt am Main. The warrant was quashed on 28 June 2017, and the extradition proceedings fell away.
But from 31 January 2015 to 26 January 2017, the German authorities tapped Virdee’s phone as part of their investigations into the suspected VAT fraud.
Recently, some of the contents of those phone calls became public in a hearing involving Virdee at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The phone calls reveal Virdee talking to Dieter Trutschler about payments to high level Caribbean politicians.
PV Energy Limited
In September 2010, Virdee and Trutschler registered a solar energy company called PV Energy Limited in the UK.
PV Energy is owned by Barracuda Asset Investments Limited and the Meeco Group, a Swiss company.
Peter Virdee was the majority shareholder in Barracuda Asset Investments Limited until 5 May 2017. It is now owned by his father, Harbhajan Singh. The Meeco Group is owned by Trutschler’s wife. Trustchler is an employee of PV Energy.
In December 2015, PV Energy announced that it had completed a solar energy project in the Caribbean state of Antigua and Barbuda.
The company was also interested in projects on St Kitts and Nevis. But in the recent judgment at the Royal Courts of Justice, Justice Holroyde and Justice Dingemans note that, “There is no evidence before the court that any contract was concluded with St Kitts.”
So far, the only UK newspaper that has reported on this story about a donor to the Conservative Party being embroiled in corruption allegations is the Mail on Sunday.
A spokesperson for Virdee and Trutschler told the Mail on Sunday that, “The NCA have an ongoing investigation and it would be inappropriate to comment, save to say that both of our clients strongly deny suggestions that they were involved in bribery.”
In their judgment, Justice Holroyde and Justice Dingemans explain that,
There is no doubt that the transcripts include a number of references to the topic of payments or gifts to government officials. There is however dispute between the parties as to what the transcripts reveal about the claimants’ attitude to such payments or gifts. It is submitted on behalf of the claimants that it is clear from the transcripts that although demands were being made of them, they were refusing to involve themselves or PVE [PV Energy Limited] in the payment of any bribe or any other corrupt activity. It is submitted on behalf of the NCA [National Crime Agency] that, on the contrary, it is clear from the transcripts that the claimants were ready and willing to pay bribes, and had given at least one gift to a Caribbean politician, but were seeking to negotiate lower corrupt payments than had been demanded of them.
The Justices also state that,
Without going into particulars, and putting the matter at its very lowest, we have no doubt that a judge considering the passages we have quoted would regard them as capable of giving rise to a reasonable inference that the claimants were willing in principle to make corrupt gifts and to pay bribes, but felt that the Caribbean politicians with whom they were dealing were asking for too much.
On 23 October 2017, Asot Michael, who was then the Antiguan Minister of Tourism and Investment was arrested in Gatwick Airport. In 2016, Michael was Antigua’s Minister of Energy. Michael is mentioned in the intercepted phone calls and on 15 May 2018, he resigned his current position as Minister of Investment and Trade.
In their judgment, Justice Holroyde and Justice Dingemans include extracts from two telephone conversations:
12 March 2016
Virdee tells Trutschler he had had “a serious fight” when he last spoke to “our friend”. Later in the conversation Virdee referred to “our friend” by name: Asot Michael, then-Antiguan Minister of Energy. Virdee complained that Michael said he needed 2 million:
Virdee: “What do you mean, ‘I need 2 million’?, I said ‘you can’t just fucking take 2 million. You can’t just say ‘I need 2 million because I did a lot of gravy and this and you know, you guys are buying volume and that’s why there should be more …’. I said ‘That’s why could afford to get fucked by you guys at 1.5 million on the back of the fact that we are buying volume. Had we not been buying volume, we could not have done that deal at 1.5 million. You go and you get 20, 30 people every day come into your office as Minister of Energy, you show me one of them saying to you they can do the same quality, same product everything for the price we have done it’.”
Virdee told Trutschler that Michael had asked for his watch. Virdee took it off and gave it to Michael.
Virdee: “He gave me my watch back and he said to me ‘Could you buy my mum a car?’ I said ‘I will think about it.’ Then on my next visit he said ‘You promised my mum a car’. I said ‘I have no problem in buying you a car, no problem, but I can’t be giving you chunks of the money that you are not entitled to beforehand and give money to the party and then go and buy you a car’. I said ‘yes, we will buy you a car, it is not a problem, but just give us some breathing space.’ And he’s gone … and he has gone off on one to the point when he is just very obnoxious conversation and to the point you know I said to him ‘You know what, go fuck yourself, I’m done with this, I can’t be doing with this headache’.”
Virdee told Trutschler that the Prime Minister of St Kitts was visiting. Timothy Harris became Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis in February 2015.
Harris denies being involved in any corruption. On 13 May 2018, in response to information contained in the judgment in the Royal Courts of Justice, Harris stated that since he became Prime Minister, “the integrity of the Office of the Prime Minister has at all times been maintained to the highest standards to which the citizens and residents of the federation are entitled to and must hold their government.”
Here’s what Virdee said about Harris’ visit in his conversation with Trutschler in May 2016:
Virdee: “I am taking him and his entourage out for dinner this evening and then we have an after party, so be ready for a big bill, but in the interim he said he would like a nice watch. I said ‘okay.’ And then he called me this morning and he said ‘Have you got my watch?’, I said ‘Oh I have got to pick your watch up’. So that is that. I spoke to him last Saturday, last Sunday at the airport hotel when he was in transit to Dubai and he said ‘Look, I am in favour of this, I will send my minister down’, I said ‘But you telling me you are in favour of it, it doesn’t help me, it really doesn’t help me in what you are telling me because, you know, I need action behind the words, and at the moment I am not seeing any of that.’ And I had a very stiff conversation with him, to the point I said ‘Listen, you have got another 3, 3 and a half years. In 2 years’ time you are going to start your election campaign, you are going to come to me and say ‘Peter Virdee, I need some election funding’ and I am going to say ‘PM I can’t help you, if I have not earned anything from this country’ and then you are going to get upset and then we are going to fall out, so it is your call, how do you want to do this….
Look, I have someone in the car … between me and you, I don’t want to talk too much on the phone, I am going to have a very frank conversation with him, I mean as frank as I can get, and today’s conversation is going to be ‘Yes we are going to be in St Kitts’ or ‘No, we are not going to be in that region’, simple, because I have not got time to go and entertain and go and meet him at airports and take him out for lunches and take eight of them out for dinner, and buy him a watch and buy him this and buy him shoes. I haven’t got time for that. Now I don’t mind nurturing a relationship, the guy is in power today, and if he ain’t going to do nothing for me whilst he is in power, he is not going to do fuck all for me when he is out of power.”
Virdee told Trutschler that he was on his way to Selfridge’s to look for a watch:
Virdee: “I had my guy out looking yesterday but they are just out of the budget I want to spend on him. I don’t really want to be spending more than like 2,000 pound on him, on a watch.”
12 July 2016
A conference call between Virdee, Trutschler, and Asot Michael, then-Antiguan Minister of Energy.
Michael: “On the St Kitts agreement, how are we going to share that?”
Virdee: “I don’t think you want to be having that conversation on line [M] with the greatest of respect, you might want to have it with DT in person or me in person.”
Michael: “No, we can do it right now, I’m on a Vonage, it has nothing to do with Antigua.”
Virdee: “But we are not on the Vonage.”
Michael: “It has nothing to do with Antigua. I am not doing nothing illegal, I’m getting you a job in St Kitts, I just wanted to find out, you know, because DT, when I spoke to DT about that he said that is a decision for you and Peter.”
Virdee: “That is right, DT spoke to me and you mentioned to me, he said that originally you asked for 50%, then there was 30% and I agreed with you around 1.2 million, I said yes get the battery in and we can increase it. And then on St Kitts we can discuss.”
Michael: “No, let’s move forward, let’s not even go onto St Kitts yet, I never agreed to get a battery first to agree on anything. Antigua was a different thing. That is just sour grapes so let’s not even speak about Antigua on the phone. We will speak about that in person so that is not correct, Antigua is something different. Let’s speak about St Kitts -“
Virdee: “Well, we need to sort Antigua out and then we can move on to St Kitts.”
Michael: “I don’t want to speak on Antigua on the phone. We speak on Antigua in person. Or when you get a secure line you can call me.”
Michael told Virdee and Trutschler that he was not a greedy man. He mentioned a 50-50 split, or a three-way split.
Virdee replied by telling him the amount of money he would have to put up initially, and talking about the need to recover his cost of funds. Michael said he wanted 10% of the contract price (which he thought was US$50 million). He said the profit would be US$13.3 million dollars.
The conversation continued:
Virdee: “13.3 million. You want 10% of 45 million which is 4.5 million, we are left with 8.5 million, there will be roughly 3 million to take care of what we need to take care of locally, take 2 million, 3 million, whatever it may be.”
Michael: “That is too much, come on, give me a break Peter. 2/3 million, come on.”
Virdee: “He has already asked for two.”
Virdee: “Our friend.”
Michael: “You have no right to be entertaining discussions with him about that, we agreed.”
Virdee: “I have not entertained a discussion with him. I am just telling you what he has indicated.”
Michael: “I mean he can indicate whatever the fuck he wants to indicate.”
Virdee: “Understood, but -“
Michael: “He gets a million, they are lucky.”
Virdee: “Even if -“
Michael: “We are not giving him 2 million dollars Peter, come on, okay, I will determine that, I told you, leave those discussions to me…. I just prefer to come up with something on gross, if 10% is too much let’s come up with something else. Okay. Think about it Peter, we got the incentive to close the thing with St Kitts, think about it. I really got to go. And DT we can speak next week when you come next Wednesday or Thursday morning, but think about it Peter.”
Virdee: “I don’t need to think about this. I’m not going to put in 20 million and walk away with 3.5 million. It doesn’t work for me. If DT wants to do it he is more than welcome, if you want to do it, you are more than welcome. I am not front loading and financing and having all the bullshit I’ve had.”
Michael: “But we told you all your financing costs will come out, we said that, DT agreed and I agreed.”
Virdee: “No, no, you said you want 10% of the gross.”
Michael: “Yes. The gross, yes. If 10% is too much we will work on a lower figure.”
Trutschler: “Look, gentlemen, why –”
Michael: “I am not working for nothing and you guys walk away with everything like in Antigua, I’m sorry.”
PHOTO Credit: April 2016: Peter Virdee speaking at the official inauguration of the solar power plant installed at V.C. Bird International Airport on Antigua.