Leader of the Opposition Kamla Persad Bissessar, SC, MP, in keeping with a commitment made last week, has written to Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, calling for steps to be taken by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) to protect and preserve the evidence in the criminal investigation into the actions of A & V Oil and Gas Ltd.
In the letter dated Wednesday 19th September, 2018, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar said, “It is out of a great sense of concern and alarm that I am compelled to bring to your attention my fear that there is an ongoing attempt to undermine the democratic institutions and processes that are designed to uphold the rule of law and the democracy that we know as Trinidad and Tobago in order to evade and escape the reach of the law and conceal their criminal conduct.”
The Opposition Leader gave a detailed background of the allegations of alleged criminal conduct on the part of the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (Petrotrin) Catshill field lease Operator, A & V Oil and Gas Ltd., which were first made public in September of last year.
The allegations, she noted, arose out of a report produced by the Audit Committee of the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited, which found that:
“Based upon the number of control issues identified during our visit to the Catshill field and our analysis of the Sales tickets and GPS records internal audit has concluded that the custody transfer process at the Catshill field has been compromised.
This has resulted in the fraudulent overstatement of production and leakage of “short in supply cash” from the company. In the internal audit’s opinion this purchase of non-existent crude from Catshill is the main contributing factor to Petrotrin receiving significantly less oil than the volumes recorded by the Exploration and Production department. ”
The report estimated that Petrotrin would have overpaid A & V Oil and Gas Ltd. USD 11.5 million dollars.
The Opposition Leader noted in her letter that on 12th January 2018 the Energy Minister stated that the matter of the alleged criminal conduct of A & V Oil and Gas Ltd. was referred to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions by the Board of Petrotrin in November 2017.
“I was deeply disturbed and troubled when this announcement was made for the simple reason that under section 90 of the Constitution the Director of Public Prosecutions is not vested with any power to investigate criminal conduct for the purpose of making a determination of whether there has been an infringement of the criminal law justifying prosecution,” Mrs. Persad-Bissessar stated. “If the Board of Petrotrin were not aware of the absence of any investigatory powers in the Office of the Director of Prosecutions that is troubling, and if they were aware it would be cause for even greater concern.”
She noted that no explanation has ever been provided to the public by the Minister of Energy as to the reason this matter was not referred to the Office of the Commissioner of Police for an immediate criminal investigation to be commenced. Despite the failure of the Petrotrin Board to refer this matter to the TTPS, it is understood that the Police have started an investigation and she stated her expectation that this investigation would engage the attention of the Fraud Squad, The Anti-Corruption Bureau, The Financial Intelligence Unit and the Criminal Investigation Department of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.
“This matter is one of great public interest and concern not only because of the quantum of money involved but more so because it is alleged that there existed a calculated, intentional and deliberate fraudulent scheme to defraud the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited of funds that belong to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago,” the Opposition Leader said. “Further, upon the facts of this matter being placed in the public domain, the Honourable Prime Minister made public statements confirming that the principal of A & V Oil and Gas Ltd. was his friend and financier of the political party that he leads. The Prime Minister’s statements were very unfortunate given that these matters would have to necessarily engage the attention of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.”
“Such statements have the potential to give the impression to the fair-minded and informed observer that such persons would be afforded preferential treatment from the authorities,” she added. “Such actions on the part of the Honourable Prime Minister will certainly result in the undermining the already low confidence that the population has in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.”
The Opposition Leader also noted recent events, particularly the announcement on 28th August 2018 by the Chairman of Board of the Petrotrin that the Board had decided to close the Point-a-Pierre Refinery.
“It has come to my attention that in preparation for the closure of the Refinery electronic documents, critical reports, statistical data sheets, technical timeline data surveys and confidential employee statements have gone missing and/or are being removed and systematically destroyed,” Mrs. Persad-Bissessar said. “Such actions carry the real risk of compromising the ongoing criminal investigation by various organs of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. Equally serious is the fact that such actions amount to the commission of further criminal offences including but not limited to the obstruction of an ongoing criminal investigation and perverting the course of justice.”
The Opposition Leader said this development is even more disturbing in light of recent revelations at the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago which only this week reported that files and documents have recently been discovered missing – a public authority that is also the subject of a criminal investigation having regard to its involvement in questionable transactions involving the procurement of certain vessels on behalf of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.
“These actions are clearly designed to undermine and impede the actions of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service in lawfully carrying out their duties on behalf of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago,” she said. “Those who are responsible for these actions are in breach of the criminal law and should face the most serious sanctions.”
Mrs. Persad-Bissessar emphasized the critical importance of these investigations to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. “Those who have used their political connections to syphon and secret unlawfully that which belongs to the people of this country must be brought to justice and must not be allowed to escape the reach of the law.”
The Opposition Leader called on the Commissioner of Police to immediately use the powers that are vested in him by statute and the laws that allow him to make the necessary applications to the Court to preserve and protect the evidence that is in the custody, control and possession of these state entities that is relevant to the ongoing criminal investigation.
“This evidence will be crucial to any prosecution that may arise out of your investigations into these matters, and failure to do so will allow those who may be in breach of the criminal law to escape the reach of the law and will amount to the greatest injustice to the citizens of our country,” Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said.