A&V Oil and Gas Ltd boss Hanif Nazim Baksh feels so “let down” that he is unable to speak out on claims that his company defrauded Petrotrin of hundreds of millions of dollars.
His lawyer, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC, yesterday described Baksh’s feelings to the media during a press conference which the oilman did not attend.
“He feels let down, he feels that there has been a grave injustice done to him and his company. He feels that he has worked hard and honestly, is not corrupt, is not dishonest and he feels very strongly about that and I don’t think Mr Baksh, from what I have seen, is, at this stage, ready to be able to talk about this matter,” Maharaj said at his law office on Irving Street, San Fernando.
It was the second occasion on which Baksh did not face the media, as he was also absent for a tour of his company’s facilities in Penal last Thursday, which most media houses boycotted over attacks on journalists who sought interviews there since the story broke two weeks ago. Police are investigating a case of physical assault against a Guardian photojournalist.
Maharaj, on Baksh’s behalf, had issued a statement of apology, inviting the media to the tour, which was led by Canadian industry expert Jim Krissa and A&V Oil and Gas Limited drilling manager Nazir Ali.
On September 10, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar had disclosed at a UNC congress that a Petrotrin audit report alleged A&V Oil had defrauded the State-owned oil company of almost $100 million by inflating its oil production output for the Catshill fields. She branded it as a “fake oil” scandal.
Media coverage of the story led to reports of Baksh’s friendship with Prime Minster Dr Keith Rowley who had appointed his daughter Allyson Baksh as a Government senator in 2015. Allyson was a director in her father’s flagship company A&V Drilling and Workover Co Ltd but stepped down as she joined the Senate.
Rowley, who was abroad when the story broke, disclosed he had called Baksh, who was also overseas at the time, asking what it was all about, saying, as his friend, there was nothing wrong in doing so.
Maharaj yesterday said Baksh’s friendship with the Prime Minister was not relevant to the allegations in the Petrotrin report.
“Whether Mr Baksh has any connections with the Prime Minister or not, I don’t think that has any relevance,” he said. “What is relevant here is, in our view and we have advised Mr Baksh that, what is relevant here is the allegation contained in the report but in addition, these defamatory allegations made against Mr Baksh have had very adverse effects on him.”
Maharaj said his client has not given any instruction to initiate legal action against Petrotrin despite issuing a statement on September 14 demanding the company declare the report to be preliminary and inconclusive.
“We are hearing now clearly is there is no evidence,” Maharaj said yesterday.
However, Baksh is pressing on with a lawsuit against Persad-Bissessar, who last week denied defaming him or his company in response to his pre-action protocol letter.
Asked if Baksh had denied involvement in the media attacks, Maharaj said, “There is nothing for Mr Baksh to deny because there has been no allegation made against him, there is an allegation made against another person of interest and the police have interviewed that person.”
However, he said A&V should be prepared to compensate anyone who was injured.
“The company in this matter has a duty to ascertain what occurred between the media and anyone who was on the property of the company at the material time. Notwithstanding any legal defences which may be available to that person of interest, the company would have a duty subject to the police investigations to see that any person who suffered loss or injury be properly compensated.”