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$.3m diesel bust in St Helena

By Alexander Bruzual

One of the biggest finds in the war against illegal bunkering of diesel was made on Sunday night, along Mohepat Street, St Helena, a short distance away from Piarco International Airport. 

An estimated 10,000 gallons of diesel—worth about $300,000—were found on the compound, a find which Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine said, during an interview on i95.5, “makes it one of the biggest operations against the illegal export of diesel in this country over the past two years”.

Sources noted the St Helena operation could potentially have brought in an estimated $900,000 a week, leading to an annual loss of more than $45 million to this country. 

“By my own assessment of this, based on intelligence and information coming to me, this is a very big raid, one of the biggest operations against illegal export of oil and diesel in this country since the operations began. 

“It started during the state of emergency (in 2011) when a number of vessels were impounded in Chaguaramas and it continues to today, where we have periodically made breakthroughs. And I must give compliments to the police, the Ministry of National Security, and the Ministry of Energy, because it has been a collaborative effort between a number of government agencies, to have  this level of success,” Ramnarine said. 

According to police reports, a party of officers from the Las Lomas Police Post, including Sgt Nash, Cpl John, PC Sammy, PC Ramsingh, and WPC Orcho, went to Ghandi Trace, off Mohepat Street, St Helena, where they executed a search warrant on a compound with four male occupants. 

The officers had received information at about 2 p.m. Sunday that “strange activities” had been observed at the compound over the past three months and, as a result, the officers conducted a search of the premises. 

Upon their arrival, the officers searched several containers and tanks which were being kept on the compound and it was here they made their discovery.

One tank, which contained an estimated 3,500 gallons of diesel, was found in a 20-foot container which was parked on the compound.

 The police also found two mobile tankers which contained 1,500 and 3,500 gallons of diesel, respectively, parked on the compound.

The premises, police sources said, is owned by a businessman from Central Trinidad, who reportedly leased the land to another individual for separate operations. 

Three men who were on the compound at the time of the search have since been detained and are said to be assisting police with their investigations. 

Inquiries are continuing

Diesel is subsidised in Trinidad and Tobago and sold at a cost of $1.50 per litre. Racketeers sell this at a black market price of between US$6-8 per litre.

Last year, an estimated $50 million “dent” was made in the illegal trade with bunkering finds in Sea Lots, Claxton Bay, and Pt Fortin. 

The penalties under the law for participating in this trade were increased in the Finance Act of 2012, which amended Section 17(1) of the Petroleum Production Levy and Subsidy Act.

 The offence of “exporting petroleum products or attempting to export petroleum products obtained from sales by retail” also made a summary offence liable on summary conviction to a term of five years’ imprisonment and including fines ranging from $500,000 up to $6 million.

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