Probe into Defence Force vessels deal: Bahamas $150m contract caught in Dutch inquiry


Tribune Staff Reporter

THE Netherlands is investigating alleged bribery involving the Christie administration’s acquisition of nine defence force vessels in 2014 and has been receiving co-operation from local officials for its investigation since June of last year.

Dutch officials suspect corruption related to the shipbuilding services this country received from Damen Shipyard Group (DSG), which is based in Gorinchem, Netherlands.

The Christie administration borrowed $149m in 2014 for DSG to build nine defence force vessels as part of its Sandy Bottom Project which aimed to enhance the capacity of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.

The Tribune understands that the Dutch investigation centres on commissions the government paid to NSG Management & Technical Services Ltd, a company based in Barbados that acted as DSG’s agent to the Bahamian and Trinidad & Tobago governments.

The Bahamas paid NSG $13m in commissions between 2014 and 2016. This included $6.6m in 2014, $4.7m in 2015 and $2.94m in 2016. The commission fees represented more than 12 percent of DSG’s total contract value - and that raised red flags among officials.

Investigators also obtained documents showing that DSG’s external auditor, EY, raised concerns over the contracts. EY believed the commissions were too high and noted they exceeded the five percent of a contract’s value prescribed by DSG’s own internal documents.

Auditors also struggled to determine what work NSG performed to warrant the commissions. When they tried to audit the company, NSG was non-cooperative, The Tribune understands.

The Dutch began a global corruption investigation into DSG in 2015 based on information received from the World Bank and EY.

Investigators raided DSG’s offices in Gorinchem and Rotterdam in January 2017, seizing large amounts of administration and digital data. It was those materials that sparked their investigation into DSG’s alleged bribery of public officials in the Caribbean.

NSG’s beneficial owner is Stephen Robert Hobson, a UK citizen living in Barbados.

Auditors, reviewing NSG’s financial statements for 2014 and 2015, found that the company paid $11.8m in 2014 and 2015 to SRH Consultancy Services Inc.

According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ offshore leaks database, SRH Consultancy services Inc was registered in The Bahamas and Stephen Robert Hobson was listed as its director/president.

According to investigators, Mr Hobson refused to give insight into the reasons for the transfers, with the transfers vaguely described as being for consultancy fees and commissions in NGC’s books.

The anti-corruption division of the Dutch National Prosecutor’s Office for serious fraud, environmental crime and asset confiscation is leading the investigation.

In May 2018, Dutch officials requested that Bahamian representatives attend a July 2018 co-ordination meeting involving officials from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and The Bahamas. It is not clear if any Bahamian official attended the meeting.

Attorney General Carl Bethel declined to comment yesterday.

Keith Bell, the former State Minister for National Security, said he found the allegations baffling.

“Nothing of that nature was ever brought to my attention,” he said when contacted.