(Trinidad Express) Three service stations in south Trinidad and as many as 30 boats have been identified as being involved in the multi-million dollar illegal trafficking of diesel fuel, recent investigations by the Ministry of Energy and the National Petroleum Marketing Company of Trinidad and Tobago (NP) have found.
Major players allegedly involved in the illegal trade, according to the report, include officials attached to the Trinidad and Tobago Customs and Excise Division, NP, Unipet, retailers, peddlers, the State-owned petroleum company Petrotrin as well as trawler operators.
Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine could not be reached for comment yesterday despite numerous attempts by the Sunday Express to reach him on his cellphone. A text message to him also went unanswered.
The 22-page March report, which also includes photographs of a network of trucks and boats allegedly engaging in the illegal sale of fuel, also identified a soca artiste as being among the players.
During its investigations into one of the suspected service stations in Point Fortin, both Customs and Ministry of Energy officials requested the closure of the station as they sought to investigate the presence of a 4,000-gallon offsite storage tank located on premises near the station.
The property where the tank was located is owned by relatives of an official attached to the station.
The investigators were told by the official that the tank was used to store diesel for his part-time trucking business.
Further investigations revealed that the gas station official was in possession of two trucks fixed with “covered IBC plastic tanks used to transport diesel”, the report stated.
Tax invoice books bearing the name of the contracting company were also found in his possession.
“These bills had the number plates of vehicles transporting fuel and also the value of diesel purchased by him over a period of time,” the report stated. It added that receipts obtained linked the station’s employee to the supply of fuel to a company which is alleged to be linked to a vessel which was also under question by the investigators.
In its summary of findings involving the Point Fortin station, investigators found that between August and October 2011, the station sold approximately 113,712 litres more diesel than it purchased from NP. It also found that the service station was in breach of Part II and III of the Petroleum Act 62:01 and Article 13.1 of the NP Sale of Motor Fuels and NP supplied Products Agreement.
The report also pointed to two vessels which were under surveillance by the Police Service on August 29-30 at National Fisheries, Sea Lots.
It was alleged that the non-functional vessels Mary K (Papa K) and Sea Swan were being used to store fuel. According to the report, the Mary K was trading under two different names and was not in compliance with the authorised diesel quotas for vessels.
In November 2012, another gas station in Fyzabad was shut down after allegedly carrying out illegal activities and investigators found that the station was in breach of the Motor Fuel Supply Agreement between NP and Dealer as well as breaching the Petroleum Act and Bureau of Standards rules.
Also in November 2012, at King’s Wharf, San Fernando, another station was shut down for also being allegedly involved in the illegal trade.
A deportee from the United States with close links to a company which bought a vessel from the US is also alleged to be “aiding and abetting” the illegal sale of diesel to trawlers and to the other islands.
Investigators have linked three employees from Trinmar, one of whom is also a private businessman.
Another operator, who has multiple addresses, including Maracas, St Joseph and Freeport is reputed to be a big player “across the Caribbean” and investigators have detected “multiple property transactions”.
One of the companies, with which he is linked, has approximately “$150,000 per month passing through this company’s account”, the report stated, adding that it appeared as if this major player “incorporated his limited liability company to avoid recovery action in favour of EximBank in the amount of $1.8 million”. Investigations into the company “are ongoing”.
According to the report a relative of this major player, was arrested in 2012 in connection with illegal bunkering and charged for attempting to export 42,642 litres of diesel fuel. He was also charged with knowingly attempting to evade the Customs and Excise Act as it related to receiving the fuel and is currently before the court.
Other investigations reveal that another key figure from San Fernando was linked to a number of businesses which are used as storage sites to conduct their illegal trade.
“Financial information is that he has $1 million in an investment fund. He has a checking account totalling $160,000 and also holds three MasterCards,” the report stated.
It added that this operator is linked to a close relative who has 18 front companies, registered in her name and who “also uses Internet banking facilities to transfer and receive monies to a local account”.
Financial surveillance of this account has detected transactions which can be described as “covert banking transactions, synonymous with drug trafficking networks”, the report warned. Investigations are also ongoing into this dealer.
The report also indicated that on October 22, 2011, the AMS Diver vessel operating as a floating gas station for Trinmar Operations, Petrotrin was allegedly involved in a fuel transfer incident to an unauthorised vessel in Trinmar waters off south Trinidad and the vessel and its crew were immediately suspended from operating within Petrotrin waters.
It also added that another vessel, Nadine M, which was ultimately responsible for the distribution of fuel within Trinmar Operations could not account for 865,756 litres of diesel valued at $2,322,441.85 over the four-year audited period. The company has since gone into receivership but another has since been created.
The report also noted that some of the main operators have criminal backgrounds and possess “a huge arsenal of weapons from sniper weapons to fully automatic AK-47s and grenades”.
It also listed some 30 names of boats given by informants allegedly involved in the illegal trade, which “allegedly take fuel at Power Boats and National Fisheries and sell down the islands and are used as bunkering vessels for other boats”.
The report is calling on the Energy Minister to establish a “team to investigate the illegal sale of diesel within Trinidad and Tobago in order to reduce the subsidy being paid by the government which now stands at approximately $4 billion per annum”.
It also recommended that a team of investigators be established to include a certified fraud examiner, as well as Customs officials, the police, the Petrotrin audit department, NP’s audit department, an attorney-at-law, a private investigator as well as Ministry of Energy officials.