APM Terminals, the Maersk Group’s port unit, agrees to make yet another payment for the acquisition of Guatemala’s Terminal de Contenedores Quetzal (TCQ).
Earlier this year, APM Terminals landed a huge deal with the owners of Spanish Grup Maritim TCB acquiring its port and terminal activities in Spain and South America, including TCQ in Guatemala.
Following the announcement of the takeover in March, however, the legal authorities in Guatemala launched an official case claiming that a group of people had made an illegal agreement to pay 24 million dollars in 'commissions' for obtaining the right to construct and operate TCQ back in 2012.
The group included Guatemalan politicians as well as the now former primary owner of Grup Maritim TCB, the well-known Spanish businessman Ángel Perez Maura, one of the sellers with whom Maersk entered into the agreement for the acquisition of TCB and its 11 regional terminals. As with all acquisitions, APM Terminals undertook a thorough evaluation of Grup Maritim TCB including TCQ prior to signing the purchase agreement but nothing was found to raise suspicion.
Had no idea
Although the alleged bribery occurred years before APM Terminals became the owner of Grup Maritim TCB, the misconduct has now become the Danish company’s headache.
It has been very unpleasant for us to experience this even though we are not involved in what took place in 2012. The problem for us is that the operation of the port is based on the original agreement and that this agreement can be seen as invalid.
In an interview with ShippingWatch, Vice President and General Counsel at APM Terminals, Susanne Marston, maintains that the company had no idea that corruption – according to the authorities – was part of the original agreement from 2012.
"On April 15th, we get an alert that there has been a raid and that a member of the management group has been arrested. June 2nd, a court imposed intervention over the business of TCQ based on the criminal allegations is in place initiated by the Guatemala prosecutor. APM Terminals is actively collaborating with the authorities in the investigation," explains Susanne Marston.
As part of APM Terminal's internal investigation, thousands of documents are being scrutinized to verify what happened when TCB acquired the right to construct and operate the vital Pacific Ocean terminal.
Agreement could be deemed invalid
The dramatic development this spring – along with three licenses that are still due for the port to get up and running – has paralyzed the otherwise high-end terminal which is expected to boost trade not only for Guatemala but for the entire region.
Still, a not unrealistic outcome is the cancellation of the right to operate TCQ citing the bribery that apparently softened the will of politicians in 2012 to render the concession to TCB.
Now, APM Terminals is willing to pay USD 43,2 million, which is one of three demands the court appointed interventor has put forward to lift the stranded agreement from its deadlock.
"It has been very unpleasant for us to experience this even though we are not involved in what took place in 2012. The problem for us is that the operation of the port is based on the original agreement and that this agreement can be seen as invalid. As the new owners of TCQ we believe we have a moral obligation. Basically, we have two options: To walk away, or, to act in securing an operational port," she explains.
APM Terminals has asked to consider a change to the proposed deal. The original concession to be prolonged to 25 years and not only 21 years as was first agreed.
Following APM Terminals’ acceptance of the proposal from the interventor, the company now awaits the position from Guatemala’s government on the proposal.
The port was expected to open on May 18th. In theory, the port is currently ready to receive ships and cargo.
APM Terminals is among the world’s Top-3 port and terminal companies, operating 72 port and terminal facilities and 140 inland service operations in 69 countries globally.