(Trinidad Express) Hot dogs and ketchup. An order for US$1,250,187.36 (TT$7.8 million) worth of it was made under the title “Food items for Guyana” by the National Energy Corporation (NEC), via an invoice sent to the Central International Company LLC.
This was one of the fraudulent transactions that formed part of a TT$60 million string of illegal wire transfers from the NEC in 2011.
While the Central International Company LLC of Boston, Massachusetts, USA, is in the food business, the NEC, a subsidiary of the National Gas Company (NGC), is not.
The NEC does not have an office in Guyana and did not have any business activity with the country at the time.
On Monday, September 19, 2011, a wire transfer order was sent by NEC to its bankers, First Citizens (Point Lisas), to debit the bank’s US$ account for the US$1,250,187.36 for Central International, with the note: “forward the Debit Advise to National Energy Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago.”
On Tuesday, September 20, 2011, two other wire transfer orders were issued to transfer US$4,633,717 to Steadroy CO Benjamin & Co in Antigua and US$3,725,000 to Andrew James Thomas Newman Inc in Dubai.
They all contained the forged signatures of two authorised signatories, one of which included the NEC president at the time, Andrew Jupiter.
The documents obtained by the Sunday Express with the wire transfer orders are all stamped by First Citizens on September 22.
The NEC said the fraud was discovered days later, on September 26, by the company’s finance and accounting department.
By the time they had discovered the fraud, US$100,000 was already debited from the Dubai account and the balance was frozen.
Continuing investigations into the wire transfer fraud by the Sunday Express’ Investigative Desk reveal that by the time the NEC detected the fraud, the money had already been debited from its bank’s accounts and recovering it was costly.
The NEC has recovered about TT$35,090,000 with an outstanding balance of TT$25,410,000.
The Wire Transfers
So how did the wire transfer orders get past the bank?
The documents all bore the NGC’s letterhead as well as two authorised signatures.
Investigations by both First Citizens’ and NGC’s audit department on the matter concluded that the letterhead and signatures were forged.
Furthermore, when calls were made by the bank to NEC to authorise the sum to be transferred, they were advised to go ahead with the payment.
The aftermath of the fraudulent transaction resulted in First Citizens disciplining managers for not being diligent enough and the NEC suspending four employees.
E-mails obtained by the Sunday Express show that when First Citizens was first aware of the incident, it simply classified it as “Wire Transfer Error”.
When the employees were asked to reverse it, the reason given was simply because the payments were “not NEC related”.
- The Central International Company LLC—the sum of US$1,250,187.36 (TT$7.8 million) under the title “Food items for Guyana”.
Despite Central International admitting that it did not do business with the NEC, it did not return the money causing First Citizens to engage in litigation to recover the money. While most was recovered, the bank decided to settle because a sum was covered by its insurance.
- Antigua and Barbuda law firm Steadroy CO Benjamin & Co—the sum of US$4,633,717.00.
However, this sum was never paid because it was halted by the payee’s bank, RBTT Caribbean Bank.
Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, now Antigua’s Attorney General, told the Express that the transaction never occurred.
- Andrew James Thomas Newman Inc,—the sum of US$3,725,000.
The Sunday Express could find no trace that the company or even the address listed exists, only the account number. While the money was sent, US$100,000 was debited from the account. NEC’s communications manager Wendy Seow yesterday told the Sunday Express the recipient of the funds, Andrew James Thomas Newman, has been convicted and sentenced.
“Subsequent to the completion of the criminal case, efforts continue through State to State intervention by relevant agencies and ministries, to have the funds in Abu Dhabi returned to National Energy,” NEC said in a statement yesterday.