Minister of Energy and Energy Industries, Franklin Khan, yesterday chided Opposition Leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar for her allegation that a lease operator supplying crude oil to the State oil company, Petrotrin, accused of defrauding the company of almost $100 million by inflating the figures for the oil it was supplying to the company, was a financier of the ruling party, the People’s National Movement (PNM) and a close friend of Cabinet ministers.
At a news conference at the ministry, Khan said Persad-Bissessar’s attempt to politicise the matter was unfounded and ill-advised.
Khan said neither the Prime mMnister, he as the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries nor the PNM, had anything to do with the situation.
Persad-Bissessar made the charge while addressing a meeting of the National Congress of the United National Congess (UNC) at the party’s Couva South constituency auditorium on Sunday, based on an audit report produced by the internal audit department of the company. She said she would report the matter to the Commissioner of Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the head of the Fraud Squad and the Integrity Commission, calling for an immediate criminal investigation into the actions of those responsible for the fraud. She also called for Khan’s removal as, she said, this had taken place while he was the minister responsible for Petrotrin and he had not taken any action against the operator involved.
However, Khan said it was an internal matter for Petrotrin and what action Petrotrin needs to take does not call for any ministerial approval or intervention. “I want to further state and to further add that the Leader of the Opposition’s attempt to put a political spin on an audit report on this matter is unfounded and very ill-advised. I want to go on record as also stating that the PNM, the Prime Minister, nor the Minister of Energy had absolutely nothing to do with this matter and it is solely under the remit of Petrotrin’s board and management. There is an investigative process going on at Petrotrin as we speak and it should be allowed to take its course.”
Khan acknowledged that he knows the operator because he worked at Petrotrin for a while and would have known him but said he would not say that they are friends. He denied that the operator in question, identified in the report as AV Drilling, is a financier of the PNM. However, Khan also acknowledged that one Deokiesingh, mentioned in the audit report, was screened by the PNM as a possible candidate in the last general election. In response to questioning, he said that as chairman of the PNM he would have been a member of the screening committee.
He said that Petrotrin commissioned an internal audit in January 2017 after discovering an anomaly in the quantity of oil the refinery was receiving and what its Exploration and Production Department claimed to be shipping. He said the ministry received a draft interim report on the issue on August 4th indicating that it required additional work. He said the final report of that audit was completed at the end of August and submitted to the management of Petrotrin but the ministry has not received a copy of the final report and he understands that it has to be reviewed by the Audit Committee of the new board before being sent to the ministry.
Khan said that he as minister will not attempt to influence the outcome of that investigation and will not sweep it under the carpet but will allow it to be thoroughly investigated.