Sometimes you come across a story from abroad that is so weird, but reported in such a straightforward, dull manner, that you think it's a mistranslation. The story behind this picture, which shows an impostor signing a massive fake business deal with the Ukranian government, is one of them.
The picture was taken on November 26th, and shows the head of the Ukranian investment agency signing a business deal with what he thought was a representative of a Spanish gas company. It wasn't, and nobody knows exactly who he was, or why he duped Ukraine.
The backstory: Ukraine is building a massive natural gas plant in Odessa on the Black Sea. They're super excited about it because it will allow Ukraine to produce their own gas for the first time, thus helping the country become less dependent on the Russian state gas company Gazprom. Ukraine complains that Gazprom gouges them on prices, and Russia shuts off the gas in a huff whenever Russia and Ukraine get in a spat.
But Ukraine's economy sucks and they need to raise foreign money to build the facility, around $1.1 billion to be exact. So they were thrilled when a Spanish utility company called Gas Natural Fenosa expressed interest in investing in the gas plant. They negotiated with a nice Fenosa representative named Jordi Sarda Bonvehi for "months," according to the New York Times, eventually convincing him to sign an agreement that put Fenosa at the head of an investment consortium that would help raise the money. The agreement was signed in a televised ceremony on Novemeber 26 in Kiev. The bald, goateed Bonvehi signed the document with Prime Minister Mykola Azarov looking on.
"This is a historic moment… We've taken the first really big step in securing Ukraine's energy independence," Azarov announced, according to the Financial Times.
Curiously, Bonvehi scooted out of the ceremony without saying a word to the press.
That's probably because just hours after the ceremony, Fenosa revealed it was news to them that they'd just signed a massive deal with the Ukranian government. Fenosa said in a statement that "Gas Natural Fenosa has nothing under study in this regard, nor does it have representatives working in Ukraine on this issue." The agreement was meaningless, the Ukranians were mortified. (The entire Ukranian government has since stepped down, though more because of financial and political turmoil than embarassment.)
The craziest part of all of this, though, is that more than a week after the mix-up, nobody knows for sure who the mysterious Spaniard pretending to represent Fenosa was. According to the Times, the Bonvehi's motives were "unclear" but "it did not appear that he benefited financially." The Eurasia Daily Monitor suggests that Bonvehi is a Spanish lawyer who really did work for Fenosa but may have gone rogue and negotiated the deal on his own.
Reuters managed to speak to a man who claimed to be Bonvehi, but the conversation cleared up little. From Reuters:
When asked about the failed deal on Wednesday, a government official gave Reuters a mobile telephone number he said belonged to Bonvehi. A man answering the phone identified himself as Bonvehi and said he had signed the deal although he had not been authorised to do so.
"I thought I could sign it and then settle it with the company," he said.
Speaking in imperfect Russian, he declined to elaborate further or say which company he represented.
So is this guy actually serious, involved in a complicated scam, or what? Some conspiracy theorists have suggested he was working at the behest of the Russian government to sour a deal that would mean less gas revenue for them. We would prefer to think he's a globetrotting eccentric whose hobby is negotiating bogus multi-million-dollar international agreements for the hell of it. Now he's donned a wig and shaved his goatee and is off to the Philippines to do a few fake manufacturing deals, laughing the entire way. Someone please track this guy down.