(Trinidad Express) A diesel smuggling racket in which the subsidised fuel was exchanged for guns and drugs was uncovered yesterday when a joint team of law enforcement officials swooped down on a truck at a seafront compound in Pioneer Drive, Sea Lots, Port of Spain.
Senior investigators told the Sunday Express they had been tracking the movements of the truck over the past week, and officers of the Besson Street Police Station caught the vehicle’s occupants in the act yesterday morning when they were returning to offload their second diesel trip from a San Fernando gas station.
Two suspects were arrested yesterday.
They told police they had bought 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel at a gas station in San Fernando for only TT$25,000.
With diesel selling at National Petroleum (NP) stations at TT$1.50 per litre, this quantity of fuel would have cost upwards of TT$100,000 at pump prices.
Sources close to the investigation said the truck would usually arrive on the seafront, via a compound that has a steel gate with a lone house on it, before driving onto the seafront and parking near a huge mound of dirt, approximately 20-25 feet in height.
Authorities say they spotted the two men later attaching an industrial marine hose to the truck’s tank and later making their way up the hill to place the hose into a hole in the ground.
The men, who were caught in the act by a joint patrol of police, Customs, NP police and army officers, were later detained.
Strewn just a stone’s throw away from the dirt mound that had at least four metal holes on top were used intermediate bulk container (IBC) containers that are used for storing diesel.
Smugglers usually run a line from the diesel tank to smaller boats with configured tanks that take the diesel to larger vessels out at sea.
Law enforcement authorities combed the shoreline for at least an hour, looking for any evidence of existing fuel lines but could not find any.
“What we know is that Caricom boats would come to purchase diesel, especially Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and smaller boats would come up to this Sea Lots seafront, collecting fuel from them and, in exchange, they would give them drugs and guns,” explained a senior police investigator.
The sources say the majority of guns they have discovered in the Laventille area in recent times came through this part of Sea Lots.
Others who wished to buy the subsided diesel, which usually costs $1.50 per litre, would pay between US$6-8 per litre.
Senior sources inside NP and the Ministry of Energy say this operation was being tracked for over two years, and the mastermind behind the operation is a notorious gang leader (named called) who also has ties with officials in various law enforcement agencies, as well as NP and Unipet.
NP chairman Neil Gosine later arrived on the scene yesterday and after being briefed about the situation spoke to the Sunday Express for a short while.
“We have information that this operation has been costing the Government more than $4 billion.”
NP officials were called in and tested the fuel in the configured tank on the truck, and after collecting a sample in a glass bottle, they were able to confirm after initial tests that the product in the tank was diesel fuel.
The authorities’ next task was to uncover the storage tanks, concealed under mounds of earth littered with grass and gravel.
It took authorities three hours to dig through the dirt carefully to ensure the rusted diesel tanks underground were not damaged.
“We found five storage tanks, each with a capacity of 5,000 gallons, and what I can tell you is that these storage tanks were from the NP compound in Sea Lots, and more than likely, they were stolen or the people had help moving them out,” said an NP official, speaking on the condition of strict anonymity.
Law enforcement authorities say this is not the end of the investigation, and they will continue to dig deeper to find out who are some of the other major players involved in this illegal trade.
Commenting briefly yesterday on the racket, Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine said, “Diesel is sold to the population at a subsidised price for a reason, and that reason is not for people to profit and to get large economic gains by illegal exportation of that diesel.”