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'$1.5b lost in diesel racket'

By Curtis Rampersad Publications Editor

Trinidad and Tobago has lost about $1.5 billion through an illegal racket of selling diesel fuel to buyers in other countries.

Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine confirmed the figure to the Express and TV6 News yesterday during an interview following the BG Energy Luncheon Series at the Hilton Trinidad, in Port of Spain.

Ramnarine said investigations by his ministry showed that illegal bunkering- the sale of subsidised fuel to non-nationals- remains a "major problem in Trinidad and Tobago".

This year, local motorists and companies would have benefitted from a $4.8 billion fuel subsidy when they bought gasoline and diesel at the pumps.

The Government pays for 80 per cent of the subsidy and energy companies pick up the remaining 20 per cent.

But Ramnarine said after his ministry started investigating illegal bunkering a few months ago, it was estimated that almost 40 per cent, or about $1.5 billion, has been lost through the illegal sale of diesel fuel.

The bunkering racket has been going on for much longer than was initially believed.

"We believe we could be dealing with a problem that started ten years ago," Ramnarine said.

He pointed out that data showed that in the past four years, demand for diesel fuel increased 40 per cent.

But demand for gasoline increased by only six per cent.

The subsidised fuel can be sold from between $8 a litre to as much as $25 a litre up the Eastern Caribbean, sources in the energy industry have said.

The Ministry of Energy has completed a forensic audit of the fuel supply chain in the country, starting with the producers and extending downstream to suppliers like National Petroleum (NP) and Unipet as well as their service stations.

Ramnarine said data from the audit was forwarded to the Ministry of National Security and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.

Ramnarine said he was collaborating with National Security to see that the bunkering racket stopped since "billions of dollars a year are being lost in revenue".

Law enforcement and Customs and Excise officers and currently investigating the discovery of 90,000 gallons of diesel fuel stored in containers at Sea Lots, Port of Spain, on August 23.

But Ramnarine maintained yesterday that this find was only the "tip of the iceberg" and the illegal resale of the diesel fuel was costing the country.

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