Ralph Maraj

political analysts Ralph Maraj 

THE Petrotrin story has produced a very strange and extremely painful twist.

First, some background.

Before the closure of the refinery, we had the “fake oil” issue involving A&V Drilling, owned by the Prime Minister’s very good friend, Hanif Nazim Baksh.

The company was accused of receiving payments from Petrotrin for oil it did not produce.

The allegation first appeared in an Internal Audit Report of Petrotrin; and employee Vidya Deokiesingh, a People’s National Movement general election candidate, was placed under disciplinary proceedings.

The Petrotrin board, under then-chairman Wilfred Espinet, promised “decisive action” and commissioned two external audits, by Kroll Consulting and Gaffney, Cline and Associates. Both agreed with the findings by Petrotrin’s Internal Audit Department. Both agreed that between January to June 2017, Petrotrin overpaid $80 million to A&V Oil and Gas which operated the Catshill Field which “over stated its production by at least 350,000 barrels for the period”. Gaffney Cline advised “that the reservoir was incapable of yielding the reported volumes.” In December 2017, the Petrotrin board gave written notice of contract termination to A&V.

The company challenged the decision and brought a civil suit against Petrotrin. Both the High Court and Court of Appeal dismissed the suit. The Privy Council rejected A&V’s application to appeal the findings of the local courts, and stated Petrotrin was now free to terminate its multi-million-dollar contract with A&V Oil and Gas. In the midst of all this, Allyson Baksh, Nazim’s daughter, resigned as a government senator, having been appointed by Rowley after the 2015 general election.

While all this was going on, the closure of Petrotrin was being contemplated. The Government actually did shut it down, claiming it was close to insolvency and had not paid taxes. But the Extractive Industries Transparecy Initiative (TTEITI) said that between 2010 and 2016 Petrotrin had made payments of $20.2 billion; and Prime Minister Rowley’s assertion that Petrotrin was close to insolvency was disproved by the company’s audited financial statements for 2017.

Suspicions were rampant. Some felt the shutdown of the refinery was intended to ensure no records were found and no witnesses could come forward to testify in the “fake oil” issue. There were accusations that in preparation for closure of the refinery, documents, data sheets, technical surveys and confidential employee statements were being removed and destroyed. Strengthening these suspicions was the fact that neither then-Petrotrin chairman Espinet and his board, nor three reports by Kinsey, Solomon or Lashley had advised shutting down the refinery. So why did the Government do it? Who or what influenced the Cabinet to take the most far-reaching decision in the history of independent Trinidad and Tobago? And who instructed the four government members on the Joint Select Committee (JSC) dealing with State enterprises to vote against a hearing on the issue, preventing detailed analysis and interrogation?

The plot thickens. In last year’s budget debate, as reported by the Express, MP Roodal Moonilal, “named Rowley and Vidya Deokiesingh as beneficiaries of a financial transaction, in a Miami bank”. But the Prime Minister termed it “a monstrous lie,” and ordered a probe by the police and the Financial Intelligence Unit. Moonilal now asks, “One year later, where are the findings?”

Rowley has taken legal action against Moonilal. However, in this year’s budget debate in Parliament, the MP insisted they can “never prove” he was “wrong, malicious or inaccurate” in his revelations, pointing to further evidence he has, including an e-mail from attorney David Goldberg in Maryland, United States, to Vidya Deokiesingh, providing copy of a receipt of “outgoing wire transfer to Formula One Trading in the amount of US$550,000.”

Moonilal added: “Madam Speaker, the beneficiaries, if known to you, will blow your top.”

Without delay, Roodal Moonilal should place this evidence in the hands of the police and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) for expeditious investigations. The Police Commissioner, under agreements already signed with the United States, should enlist the support of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This should receive the support of the Prime Minister who says he would “fight like a tiger” to clear his name.

Now comes the strangest development of all. Lawyers for A&V said at a press conference last week that the “fake oil” matter has now gone to arbitration proceedings. On radio last Thursday, the Prime Minister cited that press conference, saying the most important thing he heard was that Kroll Consultants and Gaffney, Cline and Associates have since backed away from their findings, claiming that Petrotrin provided it with improper data! What is this?! Interestingly, Rowley now says he is “not surprised” at what was revealed.

So who is to stand up for Petrotrin now? Petrotrin is dead, killed and cannot speak for itself. It is being accused of providing improper data. How do we know if this is true? When and how did Kroll Consultants and Gaffney Cline come to this realisation? Is the Government just going to accept this about-face of the foreign consultants? Don’t we want to know if anything irregular made them change their minds? Rowley agrees arbitration “is to be done”. So readily? Without a murmur?! Like lambs to the slaughter? Because note this, people. A&V’s lawyers say arbitration can result in government paying over $1 billion. What a journey for A&V! Will the Government now hand over $1 billion to A&V without a query? Will no one stand up for Petrotrin? What a country! What a story!

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