Siemens sought turbine export permit for ‘guidance’ from Ottawa on Russia sanctions
By Marie-Danielle Smith in Ottawa
An executive from the Montreal company that repaired a turbine for a Russian gas pipeline earlier this year says it sought an export permit to get “guidance” from Ottawa.
Controversy erupted this summer after Canada approved the delivery of the turbine to Germany, despite its simultaneous attempts to punish Russian companies during the invasion of Ukraine.
Siemens Energy Canada Ltd. says it halted its scheduled maintenance work on a turbine for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, owned by Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, when Canada imposed economic sanctions on Russia in March.
The company’s managing director, Arne Wohlschlegel, told a parliamentary committee that the company informed the RCMP about its situation as soon as the sanctions were put in place, “so I would assume that knowledge was shared with the government.”
Two months later, he said, the German government advised Siemens headquarters and the Canadian government that an energy crisis was unfolding in Germany that “would affect multiple countries in Europe.”
The Montreal subsidiary then filed for export permits that would exempt it from running afoul of Canada’s sanctions regime as a way to get “proper guidance” from Global Affairs Canada on whether to move ahead.
It did not lobby the government about the turbines, Wohlschlegel said, nor did it hire a consulting firm to do so.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, who signed a two-year export permit in July, told the Foreign Affairs Committee earlier in its study of the controversy that Canada did so to ease Europe’s energy woes.
The government also considered the potential impact on jobs in Montreal, according to a memo for Joly that the government filed in court as part of its response to a legal challenge of the decision by the Ukrainian World Congress.
“We never stated that any jobs could be at risk,” Wohlschlegel said. And the work involved with the maintenance is “a fraction of a per cent” of overall revenue in Montreal, he added.
Wohlschlegel said turbines must undergo maintenance at about every 25,000 hours of operation, or every three or four years.
The turbines sent to Montreal for repair were scheduled to have accumulated around that number of hours of use, he said, and the company’s facility in Montreal is the only place in the world where the turbines can be repaired.
Siemens delivered the first repaired turbine to Germany in July but the part has not been used, with Gazprom refusing to provide the necessary import documents to get it into Russia, he said.
The turbine would normally have been sent straight to Russia for use in a compression station there. Wohlschlegel said it was the company’s understanding that sending it to Germany instead was “the instruction from the Canadian government.”
He said he couldn’t answer questions about Gazprom’s evolving relationship with the company because while the work is happening in Montreal, the contracts are owned by a different Siemens Energy subsidiary in the United Kingdom.
And he said the firm has “no position” on whether Canada should revoke the permit for five more turbines that are sitting in Montreal, for which he said no work is currently underway.
At the end of the committee meeting, Conservatives gave notice that they will move to ask the committee to report back to the House of Commons urging the government to “immediately revoke” the additional permits.
The Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which is normally responsible for running a significant amount of natural gas to Europe from Russia, has ceased operating after a major rupture.
European Union leaders have said that leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines were caused by deliberate acts of sabotage. Russia has denied any blame.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to cut off energy flows to Europe altogether if the West tries to put a price cap on Russian energy exports.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 17, 2022.
UN chief’s call for ambition on climate gets muted response
Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, left, and Denmark’s climate minister, Dan Joergensen speak during a press conference at the Copenhagen Climate Ministerial, in Copenhagen, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. Senior government officials gathered for a climate meeting in Copenhagen gave a muted response Tuesday to calls from the head of the United Nations for countries to show greater ambition when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)
By Frank Jordans in Berlin
BERLIN (AP) — Senior government officials at a climate meeting in Copenhagen gave a muted response Tuesday to calls from the head of the United Nations for countries to show greater ambition when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged rich countries Monday to bring forward their target for achieving net zero emissions as close as possible to 2040, and for emerging economies to aim for a date as close as possible to 2050. This would be a significant shifting of the goal posts: the United States and the European Union are currently aiming for net zero by 2050, while China is targeting 2060 and India has set a deadline of 2070.
Guterres’ call came in a video message responding to a new report by the U.N.’s top climate science panel which found that the world is still far off track if it wants to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times, as agreed in the 2015 Paris accord. He did not attend the Copenhagen meeting.
Speaking at the end of a two-day meeting in the Danish capital of senior officials from dozens of countries, Egypt’s foreign minister said there was no “specific answer to the aspirational goals” set out by Guterres.
“These goals will be, I’m sure, addressed within the national context and within the national abilities,” said Sameh Shoukry, who chaired last year’s U.N. climate talks in his country.
Shoukry said Egypt would have to rely on the transfer of technology “from our friends and partners” to wean itself off fossil fuels and ramp up the use of renewable energy. The country has already benefited from a number of deals and investments to green its economy in recent years.
Denmark’s climate minister, Dan Jørgensen, said his country recently brought forward its net zero target to 2045, and aims to capture more carbon than it emits by 2050. That puts Denmark far ahead of most advanced economies, though its neighbor Germany is also targeting net zero by 2045 and Finland has said it wants to achieve that goal by 2035.
The meeting in Copenhagen is one of several taking place before the U.N. climate talks in the United Arab Emirates at the end of the year.
Asked whether that summit could again see negotiations on a global pledge to phase down all fossil fuels, Jørgensen said he had “no doubt” that it will be discussed.
“Whether or not we will reach that result in Dubai later this year is of course difficult to say,” he said. “But I think we can say for sure that it will be a part of the conversation.”
Other important topics to resolve over the coming months concern how to increase funding for poor nations — including those already suffering the effects of global warming — and taking stock of what’s been achieved internationally so far since the 2015 Paris climate accord was sealed.
Venezuela oil czar in surprise resignation amid graft probes
A boy jumps near the “Los Petroleros” sculpture that shows two men working on an oil drill of Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A, PDVSA, on the Sabana Grande boulevard, in Caracas, Venezuela, March 20, 2023. Venezuela’s oil czar, Tareck El Aissami announced his resignation on Twitter and pledged to help investigate any allegations involving PDVSA. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
By Regina Garcia Cano in Caracas
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The man responsible for running Venezuela’s oil industry — the one that pays for virtually everything in the troubled country, from subsidized food to ridiculously cheap gas — has quit amid investigations into alleged corruption among officials in various parts of the government.
Tareck El Aissami’s announcement Monday was shocking on multiple counts. He was seen as a loyal ruling party member and considered a key figure in the government’s efforts to evade punishing international economic sanctions.
And he led the state oil company PDVSA in a Venezuelan business sector widely considered to be corrupt — in a country where embezzelment, bribery, money laundering and other wrongdoing are a lifestyle.
“Obviously, they are giving it the patina of an anti-corruption probe,” said Ryan Berg, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.
“Rule of law is not being advanced here,” Berg added. “This is really a chance for the regime to sideline someone that it felt for some reason was a danger to it in the moment and to continue perpetuating acts of corruption once particular individuals have been forced out of the political scene.”
Hours after El Aissami revealed his resignation on Twitter, President Nicolás Maduro called his government’s fight against corruption “bitter” and “painful.” He said he accepted the resignation “to facilitate all the investigations that should result in the establishment of the truth, the punishment of the culprits, and justice in all these cases.”
Venezuela’s National Anti-Corruption Police last week announced an investigation into unidentified public officials in the oil industry, the justice system and some local governments. Attorney General Tarek William Saab in a radio interview Monday said that at least a half dozen officials, including people affiliated with PDVSA, had been arrested, and he expected more to be detained.
Among those arrested is Joselit Ramirez, a cryptocurrency regulator who was indicted in the U.S. along with El Aissami on money laundering charges in 2020.
Corruption has long been rampant in Venezuela, which sits atop the world’s largest petroleum reserves. But officials are rarely held accountable — a major irritant to citizens, the majority of whom live on $1.90 a day, the international benchmark of extreme poverty.
“I assure you, even more so at this moment, when the country calls not only for justice but also for the strengthening of the institutions, we will apply the full weight of the law against these individuals,” Saab said.
Oil is Venezuela’s most important industry. A windfall of hundreds of billions in oil dollars thanks to record-high global prices allowed the late President Hugo Chávez to launch numerous initiatives, including state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics and education programs.
But a subsequent drop in prices and government mismanagement, first under Chávez’s government and then Maduro’s, ended the lavish spending. And so began a complex crisis that has pushed millions into poverty and driven more than 7 million Venezuela to migrate.
PDVSA’s mismanagement, and more recently economic sanctions imposed by the U.S., caused a steady production decline, going from the 3.5 million barrels a day when Chávez rose to power in 1999 to roughly 700,000 barrels a day last year.
David Smilde, a Tulane University professor who has conducted extensive research on Venezuela, said the moves by Maduro’s government are more than just an effort to clean its image.
“Arresting important figures and accepting the resignation of one of the most powerful ministers in a case that involves $3 billion does not improve your image,” he said. “It is probably because the missing money actually has an important impact on a government with serious budgetary problems.”
The Biden administration recently loosened some sanctions, even allowing oil giant Chevron for the first time in more than three years to resume production. Maduro’s government has been negotiating with its U.S.-backed political opponents primarily to get the sanctions lifted.
U.S. congressional researchers saw El Aissami as an impediment to Maduro’s goals.
“Should Al Aissami remain in that position, it could complicate efforts to lift oil sanctions,” a November report from the Congressional Research Center said.
The U.S. government designated El Aissami, a powerful Maduro ally, as a narcotics kingpin in 2017 in connection with activities in his previous positions as interior minister and a state governor. The Treasury Department alleged that “he oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of over 1,000 kilograms from Venezuela on multiple occasions, including those with the final destinations of Mexico and the United States.”
Under the government of Chávez, El Aissami headed the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was appointed minister of oil in April 2020.
“El Aissami was a key player in the Maduro government’s sanctions evasion strategy. We’re talking about someone who knows where all the bodies are buried, so it will be key to watch where he ends up,” said Geoff Ramsey, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council focused on Colombia and Venezuela. “If El Aissami ends up being implicated himself, it could have serious implications for the entire power structure.”
In September, Maduro’s government renewed wrongdoing accusations against another former oil minister, Rafael Ramírez, alleging he was involved in a multibillion-dollar embezzlement operation during the early 2010s that took advantage of a dual currency exchange system. Ramírez, who oversaw the OPEC nation’s oil industry for a decade, denied the accusations.
In 2016, Venezuela’s then opposition-led National Assembly said $11 billion went missing at PDVSA in the 2004-2014 period when Ramirez was in charge of the company. In 2015, the U.S. Treasury Department accused a bank in Andorra of laundering some $2 billion stolen from PDVSA.
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