Part IV of an investigative
report on National Quarries.
National Quarries (NQ) paid $2 million for two pieces of equipment, even though the cash-strapped State company thought it was getting only one.
Usually, such a two-for-the-price-of-one arrangement is a steal of deal, except the company did not benefit from any bargain.
One piece of equipment—an excavator— went to NQ, while the other—a crawler dozer—went to a worksite for Gopaul & Company.
And despite paying $2 million, about $831,402 of that sum remained unaccounted for in the transaction.
In June 2013, NQ paid $2 million (US$317,968.75) to secure the excavator and, unknown to the company, when it paid that sum to a Miami-based broker, Global Trade and Financing, a Caterpillar crawler dozer was also being acquired.
The dozer secured by NQ remained undeclared at the company and was in use by Gopaul & Company for its work at the Beetham Landfill for the Solid Waste Management Company Ltd (SWMCOL).
A Sunday Express investigation into allegations of financial impropriety and fraudulent deals at the State company has revealed someone at NQ submitted an inflated invoice for the acquisition of the excavator and, as a result, managed to secure the dozer which was put to use at Gopaul & Company.
Gopaul & Company came under scrutiny after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is a personal friend of the company’s principals, Ralph and Maureen Gopaul, became their house guest in the lead-up to and after the May 2010 general election, shortly after which the company was the preferred bidder for a $40 million contract at State-owned National Petroleum Marketing Company Ltd (NP).
The Integrity Commission rejected a complaint by Opposition Senator Fitzgerald Hinds that Persad-Bissessar was in breach of the Integrity in Public Life Act for her stay at the Gopaul’s Tunapuna residence, and it also recently cleared NP of allegations of bid-rigging in the execution of the $40 million contract.
In 2011, Gopaul & Company set up a construction outfit—Raldon Construction—a combination of the names of Ralph and Donald Gopaul, two directors of the company.
Raldon’s address, as listed in the registry, is Watts Street, St Augustine, which is the address of Gopaul & Company.
Raldon has been a contractor at NQ since it was established. The Sunday Express obtained invoices and cheques paid to Raldon, which ranged from $250,000 to $500,000 a month, for its work out of Scott’s Quarry in Blanchisseuse.
Acquiring the excavator
On April 12, 2013, NQ’s corporate secretary, Wilma Owen, wrote to Scotiabank requesting the bank release US$317,968.75 (TT$2 million) via wire transfer to Global Trade and Financing for the purchase of a refurbished Volvo EC460 excavator.
That letter was cosigned by accountant Bevon Cook.
That wire transfer was subsequently halted.
But two weeks later, at the company’s board meeting on April 29 this year, that the NQ board confirmed a decision to acquire an excavator.
The board minutes, obtained by the Sunday Express, revealed that an earlier decision was taken at the board’s previous meeting on December 12, 2012, when it was agreed that the equipment would be acquired using the three quotes system.
Documents obtained by the Sunday Express indicate an invoice for the excavator was only sent by broker firm Global Trade and Financing to NQ on June 10 this year.
The invoice, signed by Luis Castillo, stated that the cost of the excavator, secured from ER Truck and Equipment, was US$295,781.25 (TT$1.86 million), a one-year service contract was US$22,187 (TT$139,778), with the total cost being US$317,968.75 (TT$2 million).
On June 17, the corporate secretary wrote a similar wire transfer letter to First Citizens, asking that it transfer the invoiced sum to Global Trade and Financing.
By June 26, NQ’s chief executive, Sandra Fernandez, wrote to Global Trade over an error after the bank wire-transferred US$427,968.75 (TT$2.6 million), an over-payment of US$110,000 (TT$693,000).
“Reference is being made to the purchase of one refurbished Volvo EC460 excavator. Please be advised that a total cost of the excavator is US$317,968.75,” she noted, asking that the outstanding sums be refunded to NQ’s current account at First Citizens.
On July 1, Miami-based ER Truck & Equipment made out an invoice to National Quarries chairman Mitra Ramkhelawan on behalf of NQ.
The invoice, numbered 389.3982, was for two pieces of equipment: a Volvo Hydraulic excavator EC460BLC valued at US$92,000 (TT$579,600) and a Caterpillar Crawler Dozer D8R Series valued at US$94,000 (TT$592,200), with a total price of US$186,000 (TT$1,171,800).
According to Sunday Express calculations, given that NQ had wire transferred US$317,968.65 but only paid US$186,000, there is an unaccounted sum of US$131,968.65 or TT$831,402. Further, the State company had clearly overpaid for an excavator valued at US$317,968.75 (TT$2 million), when invoices reveal it was only worth US$92,000 (TT$579,600).
Cheques acquired from NQ reveal separate sums were paid by the State company to cover the cost of shipping—a $109,158 cheque was made out to Seaboard Marine Ltd and signed by the corporate secretary and accountant, while a manager’s cheque by First Citizens was made to the Comptroller of Customs & Excise for $230,993.41.
Neither Castillo nor ER Truck & Equipment responded to Sunday Express e-mails requesting clarification on what NQ actually purchased for the sum spent.
Different shipping invoices
The Sunday Express obtained two bill of lading documents for the equipment—one from NQ, and another from sources at Customs & Excise. The bill of lading, which was generated by shipper Seaboard Marine Ltd, details the merchandise being shipped. It came through the port at Point Lisas.
The bill of lading document from NQ which bears the invoice number 6040520, indicates only one piece of equipment—the Volvo excavator, which was stamped with an arrival date of July 11, 2013. However, the equipment was given tags of 737938 and 737949.
The bill of lading document, obtained from Customs & Excise, which bears the exact invoice number 6040520, indicates the two pieces of equipment—the Volvo excavator and the Caterpillar dozer—were imported with the exact arrival date of July 11, 2013. Again, the equipment was given specific tags of 737938 and 737949.
The dozer and Gopaul & Company
The dozer was put to use by Gopaul & Company after it won a tender from SWMCOL for operatorship of equipment at the Beetham Landfill site for the period 2013-2016.
The Sunday Express obtained pictures of the dozer at the landfill in August.
However, the dozer had a transmission problem and was taken to Gopaul’s yard in St Augustine to be repaired.
The Sunday Express obtained a picture of the equipment when it was being repaired at Gopaul’s yard.
To corroborate that it was the same piece of equipment, the dozer bore the tag 737949, which was given a specific tag in the bill of lading document from Customs.
SWMCOL chairman Nalini Sooklal told the Sunday Express, via e- mail, the Beetham site supervisor indicated that Gopaul & Company did have an initial breakdown of equipment, which resulted in the use of a sub-contracted tractor from Ageis Ltd.
“As per the contract, this arrangement is allowed,” she noted.
The Sunday Express tried numerous times last week to contact Ralph or Donald Gopaul to comment, but was unsuccessful.
Following a series of investigative reports into NQ and enquiries into the acquisition and location of equipment, the Sunday Express understands that the dozer was moved from Gopaul’s yard to work at Scott’s Quarry two weeks ago.
Ramkhelawan confirmed both pieces of equipment are now in NQ’s possession, but did not want to detail to the Sunday Express how NQ could now lay claim to the dozer when there was no official documentation of its acquisition.
Asked why the equipment was used by Gopaul & Company, Ramkhelawan said he was “not aware of that at all”, but did not commit an answer as to if the equipment was always in the possession of NQ.
When asked about his relationship with the Gopauls, Ramkhelawan simply replied: “They are no family of mine.”
Asked specifically if he had commercial interests with Ryan Gopaul, who manages Raldon, he declined to answer.
Ryan Gopaul did not return calls or texts to his cellphone by the Sunday Express.
Pressed about the picture of the dozer at Gopaul’s yard, he responded: “I don’t know about that photo, it was never there.”
When the Sunday Express explained the discrepancies in the bill of lading documents, Ramkhelawan’s position was that the document from NQ was “false”, while the one from Customs would be correct.
“I think the one from Customs is the correct one and that should be the one in NQ,” he said.
The Sunday Express persisted: “Why was the invoice from Global for one piece of equipment?”
Ramkhelawan: “When you put your article, you will see the response.”
Asked by the Sunday Express to walk through the process of acquisition, Ramkhelawan responded: “I can talk you through it, but I don’t know if I should respond because you will be bending my words and change what I say.”
Sunday Express: “I am recording you so I guarantee you I can’t change your words.”
Ramkhelawan: “What you record is not what you put in the newspapers.”
Sunday Express: “I am basing the questions based on the documents I have before me.”
Ramkhelawan: “And you will determine my answer however you want and that’s not fair.”
Sunday Express: “Mr Ramkhelawan, are you going to respond to it or not?”
Ramkhelawan: “I will not respond. After you put your article out, I will respond then.”
The Sunday Express understands that the NQ board was unaware of the existence of the dozer until a board meeting last Thursday in preparation for a meeting with Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine last Friday to discuss allegations raised in newspaper reports.
Ramnarine has asked Ramkhelawan and the NQ board to respond to all allegations.