By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) leader yesterday charged that the Government was not serious about investigating the controversial $650 million waste-to-energy plant ‘deal’, as Tribune Business uncovered links that his party and law firm have to the project.
Branville McCartney told Tribune Business that the Christie administration’s approach to the Stellar Energy ‘Letter of Intent’ was “amazingly light”, given the Prime Minister’s pledge two weeks ago that the Government would probe how the document came to be signed.
Mr McCartney was speaking after Tribune Business contacted him, following an investigation that uncovered links between Stellar Energy and both the DNA and his own law firm, Halsbury Chambers.
The DNA leader confirmed that he was “very familiar with Stellar” and two colleagues of its principal, Fabrizio Zanaboni, after Tribune Business detailed the ‘paper trail’ it had established connecting them to the project.
This newspaper can confirm that two executives working with Dr Zanaboni are Jean-Paul Michielsen and Bruno Pletscher, the latter of whom is Stellar’s chief financial controller (Tribune Business has seen his business card).
Mr Michielsen, who Mr McCartney and other sources confirmed is a major DNA supporter, sent Tribune Business the initial press release on the Stellar project back in November 2013 using the e-mail address email@example.com
An Internet search revealed that a Jean-Paul Michielsen, based in Nassau, had sought to reserve the domain name ‘Primo Holdings’, while his interest in renewable energy projects is also extensively documented.
And a search of the Companies Registry revealed that an entity called Stellar Consulting was incorporated on November 26, 2013, with Mr Michielsen and Mr Pletscher listed as its president and secretary, respectively.
Stellar Consulting, Tribune Business can reveal, was incorporated by Halsbury Chambers Corporate Services - the corporate services arm of Mr McCartney’s law firm.
Mr McCartney, while confirming that his law firm had incorporated Stellar Consulting, said neither he nor Halsbury Chambers had done any legal work for any Stellar entity with regard to the $650 million plant proposal or negotiations with the Government.
“I’m very familiar with Stellar,” Mr McCartney told Tribune Business. “One of their companies is registered here. We’ve incorporated them.
“I know Jean-Paul very well, and Bruno very well.” He added that Mr Pletscher, a Swiss/Italian banker like Mr Zanaboni, had once done financial consulting work from an office at Halsbury Chambers.
Mr McCartney told Tribune Business he felt Mr Zanaboni and his colleagues had become embroiled in a political controversy not of their making, with the episode suggesting there were different factions within the Christie government pulling in competing directions over the landfill, energy reform and waste-to-energy.
The DNA leader suggested one group was backing the Renew Bahamas deal, which involves the 60 per cent foreign-owned company managing the New Providence landfill and developing a recycled materials manufacturing facility.
The other, Mr McCartney argued, favoured the Stellar proposal, and the ‘tug-of-war’ between the two as to who would prevail had caused the resulting controversy and political deadlock.
Urging that the Government and Mr Christie be held to account, Mr McCartney said: “We want to see the landfill converted to waste-to-energy, some form of alternative energy, but what this business has done is just verify what the US said a few weeks back about the lack of transparency and accountability.
“I say something stinks, not with Stellar but with the lack of accountability and transparency, and what persons have to do to try and do business in this country.”
Mr McCartney suggested that promised investigations into the Letter of Intent signing by Renward Wells, parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Works, by both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Philip Davis, were ‘smokescreens’ designed to divert attention away from the Stellar controversy.
The DNA leader added that the Prime Minister’s threat to sue him over his suggestions - subsequently denied - that Mr Christie told Mr Wells to sign the document, was a ‘muzzling tactic’ designed to prevent further media and public discussion of the matter.
“The Prime Minister said he will cause an investigation to be done into this matter. That was two weeks ago. We’ve not heard anything from the Prime Minister as to who will be in charge of this investigation,” Mr McCartney told Tribune Business.
“It’s an old PLP political trick. If you’re going to sue, sue. Then they’ll cause an investigation to be done. It’s: ‘Shut up, we’re dealing with it’. We cannot shut up. It’s a $650 million deal. It’s amazing they’re taking this so lightly.
“This must come to a head. The Prime Minister has put himself in a Catch-22 situation. He’s dug a hole for himself, and can’t get out.”
The DNA leader said the Prime Minister’s failure to resolve the controversy to-date raised questions as to whether the Government was “equipped to take on a new tax regime called Value-Added Tax”.
Expressing hope that the matter could be resolved for the sake of Stellar and its proponents, Mr McCartney said: “They are caught up in a political fight, and as a result they are hurting.
“We are not moving forward. There has been no further talk of this waste-to-energy project or Renew Bahamas. It’s a bad situation.
“I only wish them [Stellar] well. We want them to succeed, do what they have to do. I think they are caught up in a fight at the top.”