Netherlands defaults on Expo 2015 debts

Following problems with Russian, Hungarian pavilions.

The company which managed and operated the Dutch pavilion at Expo Milano 2015 has declared bankruptcy, leaving Milanese workers and suppliers with little hope of recovering outstanding claims of over €2 million.

The Milan-based consultant who managed the pavilion on behalf of the failed Swem srl holding company told media she was advised by a lawyer that the company had folded, and that suppliers and the staff she had recruited among students and alumni of hotel and catering colleges would not be paid.

“I was told the court in Rotterdam had declared Swem bankrupt,” said Suzan Janssen, “and that I was listed among the creditors. So the economic and foreign ministries [of the Netherlands] have ripped me and many others off, for example the campus of the Carlo Cattaneo University.”

Ms Janssen added that Dutch media were reporting “embarrassing” details of companies and managers in Holland being able to get hold of funds provided by the government there to close the hole in the Swem accounts.

The major creditor in the bankruptcy is said to be Heineken, pavilion sponsor and supplier of one of the world’s best-known brands of beer, and major export flagship of from the Netherlands.

The Dutch pavilion is not new to scandal: shortly before the closing of the universal exposition in October 2015, a whole family of visitors was taken to hospital with food poisoning. An inspection of the pavilion, where they had eaten lunch, uncovered considerable amounts of spoiled and badly stowed food in a general context of unhygienic conditions. The management was merely fined €3,000, prompting protest from consumer associations.

The pavilion was inserted into Expo Milano 2015 at the very last moment and in a very “light” format, offering only Dutch food and drink from street-food trucks, and a dance-floor under a shallow pool.

Nor is this the only pavilion to have left a bitter taste. When contractors claimed they had not been paid up to €1m, the Hungarian pavilion was impounded. The Russian pavilion ran up debts of over €7m, causing a diplomatic incident and the bankruptcy of one of its unpaid suppliers.

On the other hand, the government of Latvia, which pulled out of Expo shortly before it was opened, is claiming the return of €800,000 which had already been spent, while Expo Milano 2015 claimed €185,000 from Latvia in unpaid bills.