T&T diesel racket could be as big as drugs – Minister

(Trinidad Express) The illegal diesel trade could be almost as big as the drug trade in Trinidad, Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine said yesterday.
In a telephone interview with the Express, Ramnarine said while there was no hard evidence, anecdotally he had been hearing stories about a link between the illegal diesel trade and the trade in drugs and arms and ammunition.
“In my opinion the question that arises is what was the last government doing about it? In 2009 the country used 506 million litres of diesel and in 2010 that jumped to 650 million litres—that jump could not be because there were more cars on the road. It had to be something, likely the illegal trade. This thing did not start last year. It’s been going on for decades but intensified over the last six or seven years, when the price of oil started to increase,” Ramnarine said.
In 2011, diesel usage dropped slightly to 627 million litres, and then 539 million in 2012—a 14 per cent reduction, when the government had begun to implement structures to curb the illegal trade, Ramnarine said.
On Saturday, two men were arrested after police raided an illegal bunkering operation at Sea Lots. Four 5,000 imperial gallon tanks (nearly 23,000 litres) full of diesel were seized and are currently impounded on the National Petroleum (NP) compound, also at Sea Lots. NP chairman Neil Gosine said the estimated value (at subsidised local rates of $1.50 per litre) was between $100,000 and $150,000. Ramnarine added that wherever that diesel was destined, the pump price was worth much, much more.
“Naturally the market would be the Caribbean. The price of diesel there would be $6 to $8 per litre. I don’t want to pinpoint any specific Caribbean country (as the destination); through the national security apparatus we would make the necessary liaisons with (other Caricom ministers),” he said.
He added that the ministry is considering dyeing the diesel, which, he said would probably not completely stop the trade, but would aid easier detection by police and customs. That process will have to wait until a storage unit currently under construction in Caroni is completed, hopefully by the end of the year.
He said the country had been losing billions, but could not immediately corroborate the $4 billion figure Gosine had said on Saturday. In 2012 the Government subsidy on transport fuels was TT$4.4 billion; of this TT$2.3 billion or 52 per cent is attributable to a subsidy on diesel.
The men who had been arrested are still to be charged, either under the Customs Act or the Petroleum Production Levy and Subsidy Act, lead investigator into the incident Inspector Sahadeo Singh of the Besson St Police Station told the Express yesterday.
Singh said a special team reporting to Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn Richardson had been set up and had been conducting surveillance for two months, intensifying their work over the last two weeks. He added that investigations were continuing into this case, as well as other diesel bunkering leads.

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