The disappearance of US$750,000 (TT$4.794 million) in public funds arising out of the failed Southwest Soldado developmental deal involving a Mexican shipping firm was one of the biggest scandals in Petrotrin in 2015.
However, some five years later police are nowhere closer to solving the case because of buried evidence and uncooperative witnesses.
A senior police source confirmed yesterday that the matter was not an active investigation.
Just six months before he left office on October 31, 2015, then Petrotrin president Khalid Hassanali told Guardian Media that he had handed over to the police all records of payment connected to the Southwest Soldado developmental deal, saying the company had not recovered monies from Mexican shipping firm Maritima de Ecologia SA de CV (Maritima).
Maritima had been paid the upfront commissioning fee of US$1.25 million (TT$7.94m). But in a letter dated April 17 sent to the then acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams, Hassanali confirmed that US$750,000 (TT$4.794 million) in public funds which were paid to Maritima was never recovered, although evidence surfaced that it was returned to two private bank accounts at the Ellerslie Plaza, Maraval branch of Scotiabank.
So why wasn’t an investigation done and perpetrator/s charged?
During an interview yesterday, chief education and research officer of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union Ozzi Warwick said it was regrettable that after five years, the police had not charged anyone for the highly questionable and suspicious transactions which reeked of fraud and misappropriation of public funds.
“This and many other issues highlighted by the union is the reason Petrotrin ended up in problems and this is why the union was always calling for the restructuring of Petrotrin,” Warwick said.
“We renewed our call for a forensic audit and this Government did nothing because it would have led the situation back to Malcolm Jones.”
OWTU president general Ancel Roget had written to Williams on March 24, 2015, calling for an urgent criminal investigation into the transaction, naming three senior Petrotrin officials as being central to the probe.
Roget gave to the TTPS a compilation of sensitive documents, including correspondence leading up to an auditor’s report, findings of the auditor’s report and critical information involving particular contractors. He also wrote to the Integrity Commission and the Financial Intelligence Unit.
In a letter dated April 9, 2015, director of the Financial Intelligence Unit Susan Francois acknowledged receipt of the OWTU’s letter under the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act Chap 11:27.
At the time of the transaction, Petrotrin’s board comprised Lindsay Gillette (chairman), Aleem Hosein (deputy chairman) Sayyed Ali, Neil Bujun, Carl Hector, Reshard Khan, Rudranath Maharaj, Dr Vernon Paltoo, Arnold Ram, who is now a UNC candidate in the 2020 General Election, Dominic Rampersad and Surendra Solomon.
While the suspicious Southwest Soldado transaction was being pushed through, Petrotrin was operating at a loss. In January 2015, Hassanali told Guardian Media that he had predicted a 40 to 50 per cent loss in gross revenue, saying cash flows had to be managed very carefully.
Guardian Media yesterday sought answers from the former board and executive members about the disappearance of the public funds and the police’s failures in laying charges.
A former official who requested anonymity said the holders of the bank accounts were not politicians, noting that the accounts had been held by foreigners and not locals.
Dr Vernon Paltoo was also contacted and said he could not remember any details of the transaction.
“I remember it vaguely but not any details. That was a long time ago,” Paltoo said.
Ram, who is contesting the UNC safe seat of Caroni Central, requested that questions be sent to him via email. However, he said he was busy on the campaign trail and would have to ask his lawyers to peruse the questions.