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Argentina’s Energy Minister is stealing for the Crown

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By Eduardo J. Vior

While Royal Dutch Shell PLC has announced ten days ago an annual drop of its global sales in the first quarter by 83%, its Argentine subsidiary is filling the pockets of its mother company and the Dutch crown with the help of Energy Minister José Luis Aranguren. Since his appointment by President Mauricio Macri at last 10th December, Mr. Aranguren, Shell Argentina CEO from 2003 to 2015, and 2009-15 with downstream responsibility for the whole of South America, pursuits a policy which extremely benefits his company, and sows hatred and resentment.

In order to push its oil production, since 2014 Argentina has subsidized the barrel price, but it costs today U$S 70, twice as high as the world market price. In the first quarter of this year the naphtha price increased by 30 percent, pushing up the inflation to its present annualized 50 percent rate. As Mr. Aranguren recently has been asked, if this price isn’t too expensive for many people. His answer reflected the mentality of many government members: “if people cannot pay for oil, they are free to don’t charge the tank.”

Three weeks ago Shell won seven of eight bids called by Cammesa (the mixed state-private company which administrates the electricity market) for the supply of ships with diesel oil. Each shipment costs U$S 18 million so that the total bill reaches U$S 150 million. Shell Western has won the bid because it has requested a much cheaper price than its rivals.

Astonishingly, the Energy Minister still owns U$S 1 million in Shell equities. This fact violates Argentina’s Public Officer Ethics Act, but nobody in the Macris government takes issue with this unacceptable situation.

Argentina’s gas production doesn’t cover its total demand so that the country must import the resource. Consequently for many years, Argentina has had a solid agreement with Bolivia, and in the last ten years, both governments have invested a lot of money in the improvement of the fluid transportation. While from Bolivia imported gas is used for electricity generation, in the cold season the government habitually buys liquid gas shipments mostly from Trinidad-Tobago. Imported oil and gas are used in the thermal power plants which generate electricity for the industry and domestic consumption.

Following the price increases Minister Aranguren has been punitively sued by two legislators of the oppositional Frente para la Victoria (FpV, Victory Front) who have accused him of benefiting from the gas and oil price increases because of his “double role as a public official and as Shell shareholder”.

The claimants complaint also alleges that the Energy Minister has put Shell in a position of privilege, as he last week has announced that Bolivia cannot meet its obligations to Argentine, and begin to buy gas in Chile, a country which doesn’t produce the fluid and imports it from East Asia. Bolivia’s Energy Minister has immediately refuted his Argentine colleague and stated that his country is sending agreed normal quantities. The explanation for this import lays in the fact that the gas transportation toward Argentine is in charge of British Gas (BG), bought by Schell in last February. This gas is 128 percent more expensive than the fluid imported from Bolivia.

Already as of 16th March the legislators had informed the governmental Corruption Office but have not received any answer.

It may be that Jose Luis Aranguren is only acting as a loyal employee of the Dutch crown. In January, he pressed for the appointment of Queen Maxima’s younger sister for a senior technical post in the Chief Cabinet Minister Office for which she wasn’t qualified. Chief Minister Marcos Peña had, then, to promulgate a special Decree allowing the young woman (30) to take over this charge. Minister Aranguren is misusing his position in power to benefit unilaterally Royal Dutch Shell and the Dutch royal family. He is damaging Argentine’s economy, as well as the competing companies. Soon or later this corrupt behavior will necessarily provoke a furious reaction. The crown and the mother company should act if they want to prevent substantial damage to its capital and reputation.

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