Forget Solyndra, check out Areva!
“When, at the beginning of the year , I discovered the scope of this case, I forwarded to the FBI director all the elements I had been able to get my hands on,” Marc Eichinger told French Economic monthly magazine Capital (1). This private investigator specialized in the fight against serious international crime and corruption is very familiar with the case: he is the one who wrote the report submitted in April 2010 to Areva’s security department to denounce the potential fraud linked to the acquisition of Uramin three years earlier.
Shocked by this new case of corruption in the United States, he also referred the whole case to the French courts, causing the investigation services to overheat in the middle of the summer.
Areva buys Ausra from Al Gore, one of the main shareholders
At the heart of this new scandal, which has not yet broken out in the United States, are the conditions under which Areva acquired, in February 2010, Ausra, an American startup specialized in solar energy.
- Officially, according to the French group, the purchase price was reportedly $243 million. Problem: an Ausra manager claims to have sold the company for… 275 million.
- Among the shareholders who sold Ausra was Al Gore. The former Democratic candidate had acquired his shares in Ausra, totaling $123.3 million, through the two investment funds he chairs or advises, Kleiner Perkins (formerly KPCB) and Generation Investment Management.
- But a few weeks before this acquisition, in January 2010, a meeting of the Nuclear Policy Council, held in the Elysée Presidential Palace in the presence of all the main players, concluded that it was urgently needed to be recapitalized. The operation was carried out a few months later: the company obtained 900 million euros ($1.2 billion), $800 million being paid by the Kuwait sovereign fund, the KIA, and $400 million by the French State.
- In this very constrained environment, one can wonder about the opportunity to acquire Ausra. Especially since the start-up itself is in a difficult financial situation, and its technology (concentrated solar thermal energy) is not revolutionary. It is even a little outdated since the first solar power plants of this type were built in the 1980s.
- Moreover, the transaction is clearly overpaid: as can be seen from Areva’s own 2010 annual report, the difference between the real value of the assets and the sale price amounts to some 165 million dollars!
Why did Areva agree to give up so much money for Ausra? Marc Eichinger asked himself this question for several years.
To further his investigation, Marc Eichinger went to the United States. There, he studied the incredible story of the plant that Areva was responsible for building for the Department of Energy, which, as we will see, is directly related to the Ausra … and Al Gore.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, Al Gore’s “candy store”
- This future facility was supposed to convert the 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium that Washington had pledged to remove into mox (a nuclear fuel) as part of a disarmament agreement with Russia.
- The cost to build the plant was estimated at $1.4 billion, and commissioning was scheduled for 2005.
- Eleven years later, it had still not open. And according to a US Army report submitted to the US government, its bill had risen to… 17.4 billion dollars, and its opening postponed to 2048!
- Since then, the US Congress had come to the obvious conclusion, and it terminated the project, called “Mox Services”. Cost for the federal budget some $7.7 billion, in total waste.
- In fact, this case should have ended much earlier. As early as 2009, there were alarming reports of Areva and its American partner’s inability to build the plant. And Duke Energy, the only local nuclear power plant owner willing to use Mox as fuel, had indicated after a series of failed tests that it would not choose this solution.
- Now that the production of the future Areva plant no longer has any outlet, the project should have been abandoned at this time.
No so fast…
Instead, the Obama administration and Areva persisted. And, miraculously, a few months later, a new customer for Mox shows up: the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
This unexpected salvation plan allowed the Obama administration to convince Congress to continue funding the work.
Not much. Except that TVA is very close… to Al Gore’s family!
The father of the future American vice-president, himself a Democratic senator from Tennessee for several decades, made TVA his “thing” to the point that, during the 2000 presidential race, the American press would present VAT as the “candy store” of the Democratic candidate’s family.
As a result, the intervention of this federal agency in the Mox Services case, which occurred at the time of Areva’s acquisition of Ausra from Al Gore, raises questions. Wouldn’t that be a case of quiproquos?
Enter John Kerry
The case does not only involve the former vice-president. Three other names in the Democratic Party are mentioned in the file. Starting with John Kerry, Barack Obama’s future Secretary of State during his second term.
Kerry was then a senator and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. At the end of January 2009, during a public senatorial hearing and in the presence of Al Gore, he drew up a long eulogy of Ausra, stating that this company represents the future.
Coincidentally, John Kerry is also a shareholder of the fund that invested in Ausra!
John Doerr’s Solyndra
The second leading figure of the Democratic Party involved in the story is American businessman John Doerr. He co-leads Kleiner Perkins and he is known to be one of the party’s leading fundraisers. He is very close to the Clintons and the Obama administration: in February 2009, the White House catapulted him to the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, an organization that advises the president. The many financial benefits John Doerr will receive during the Obama presidency will generate many scandals (including the Solyndra affair in 2011), forcing Energy Secretary Steven Chu to step down.
The third Democrat involved is Senator Harry Reid.
- He too has done a lot to publicly support Ausra, especially in his state of Nevada, by offering land for solar power plants.
- He is also an unconditional supporter of Areva: in 2010, he pleaded with Barack Obama that the government grant the French group the $2 billion repayable loan to finance a uranium enrichment plant project in Idaho.
- The latter, called “Eagle Rock”, will finally be abandoned in 2012.
Never three without four musketeers
Finally, the Obama administration will be very generous with Ausra: in February 2010, at the time of its acquisition by Areva, Ausra received a federal grant (non-repayable) for $13.9 million for a solar plant project in California, the cost of which is estimated at $40 million.
And according to Marc Eichinger, this public subsidy, which represents 34% of the construction cost, is the fifth largest subsidy (in relation to the construction cost) granted by Obama’s US Treasury as part of the financing of renewable energies.
Despite all this, Ausra, who was renamed Areva Solar, has never generated anything but losses.
And it was definitively liquidated in 2015.
Construction of the Mox Services plant has also been halted, but the bill continued to rise for the U.S. federal budget. To safely store weapons-grade plutonium (highly unstable material) that should have been transformed into Mox fuel, Washington would spend some $19.9 billion, according to a Department of Energy study.
To recoup its losses, the Trump Administration should trigger a corruption trial against the French company, and, in the event of a win, the rule is that the amount of the fine should cover the total financial loss.
The prosecutor could simply claim from Areva the $243 million corresponding to the amount of the acquisition of Ausra. But it can also very well demand repayment of all the federal expenses incurred in the case, namely: the $7.7 billion invested in the mox plant that has never been built, the $19.9 billion that will be spent on the management of unprocessed plutonium and the $243 million for the acquisition of Ausra, for a total of almost $28 billion.
The Department of Justice would do well to be a little less timid, and to take lessons from the Democrat’s DOJ and the way they weaponized it in the Trump Russia hoax. They should launch a serious criminal investigation into the four musketeers …
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