The lease operator identified by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar as being behind a “fake oil” production scandal at State-owned Petrotrin is reportedly in the United States. Employees at A&V Oil and Gas Drilling and Workover Limited were unsure when owner, Haniff (Nazim) Baksh, would return to Trinidad.
Newsday yesterday observed drilling equipment lying idle at the company’s sprawling Nazim Avenue, Penal compound.
Meanwhile, a person bearing a striking resemblance to Petrotrin employee Vidya Deokiesingh, who was identified by Persad-Bissessar as being involved in the fake oil scandal, refused comment when the news team visited his Palmiste home.
Instead the man, who was seemingly staking out his own house by sitting in a car parked in front of the driveway, waited until the news team rang the doorbell, before starting the car and drove down the dead end street.
He returned several minutes later and, without saying a word, began to take pictures of the news team and their vehicle. Asked for a comment, he murmured, “not at this time.” The fake oil scandal was made public by Persad-Bissessar during her address at a meeting of the UNC’s National Congress at the Couva South constituency office, Camden Road, Couva on Sunday evening.
Reading from a copy of an internal audit report prepared by Petrotrin, she said the audit team had concluded that the lease operator at the Catshill field had defrauded the company of almost $100 million by inflating its oil production figures.
And reading from the document, she said: “It is estimated that for the period of 2017 January to June, six months Catshill overstated its production by at least 350,000 barrels and Petrotrin would have overpaid US$11.5 million.”
“That is in excess of 80 million Trinidad and Tobago dollars,” Persad-Bissessar said. “Petrotrin has been paying the operator for oil it has not produced, they have been paying for fake oil.”
In a media release yesterday, the Energy Chamber expressed concern about the “allegations being made about fraud in the transfer and sale of oil from A&V Drilling to Petrotrin.”
“The Energy Chamber urges a speedy conclusion to the internal investigations and that Petrotrin takes all appropriate measures based on the final findings of the investigation, including referring the report to the police once due process is followed,” the chamber stated. The chamber noted the lease and farm-out operatorships and incremental production sharing contract systems had delivered approximately 50 million barrels of oil to Petrotrin since the programme was founded in the late 1980s.
“This oil could not have been profitably produced by Petrotrin and would have remained in the ground without the involvement of the smaller local and international oil companies in this programme. The current issues concerning the transfer of oil from one operator must not be used to discredit a programme that has brought significant benefits to Trinidad and Tobago,” the chamber stated.
It also stated the fraud allegations underscored the need to “modernise” the operations of Petrotrin and ensure the highest international operating standards were applied to the company.
The Chamber pointed out that manual systems which rely upon “batch quantity and quality sampling by an individual” would always be open to “manipulation and collusion.”
A&V Ltd is owned by Nazim Baksh, whose daughter, Allyson, is a current government senator. Vidya Deokiesingh, who has since been removed from his post as crude procurement specialist, was the PNM candidate running against Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar for the Siparia seat in the 2015 general elections.
On Monday, Energy Minister Franklin Khan sought to distance the government from the audit and the individuals involved in the alleged fraud.