US$500M PetroCaribe fraud at Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB)

… Investigators track US$5M in demurrage fees

February 20. 2018 – Kaieteur News

It started off in 2015 with the new Coalition Government wanting to know what happened at the various state agencies over the previous five or six years of the stewardship of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic.

This led to several forensic audits being commissioned. The findings were alarming enough for the administration to hand the reports to the police for further investigations.
The police gave the matters to its Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), which specialises in going after money crimes.

One of the big cases was the one involving the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB).     

About seven years before 2015, GRDB was tasked with managing a major rice deal with neighbouring Venezuela. That Spanish-speaking country wanted rice and Guyana was glad for the fuel which was being given on concessional rate.

GRDB was tasked with making the payments to farmers and millers who were lucky to be selected to participate in the deal. Several farmers and millers complained of being sidelined.
Today, SOCU, according to reports, is looking into several parts of that oil-for-rice deal, which became known as the PetroCaribe arrangements.

Among other things, SOCU took on the Guyana Bank For Trade and Industry (GBTI), after claiming it was finding difficulties in accessing bank records relating to the deal. Several bank directors were charged.
SOCU wanted to know where monies were paid to and via which bank and who authorised those payments.

SOCU is also reportedly investigating another aspect.

It appeared that investigators can find little records of where or to whom demurrage fees were paid to.
Demurrage is issued when cargo exceeds time allotted sitting at the terminal, and detention/per diem is the fee associated with keeping the equipment past the contractual time frame. It also comes into play when truckers are made to wait extra time when loading/unloading containers.

In this case, Venezuela had reportedly acknowledged that there could be delays at its ports.
That country as part of the PetroCaribe arrangement agreed that Guyana through GRDB would not have to pay demurrage fees because of ongoing congestion at the ports in Venezuela.
However, SOCU’s investigations reportedly found some strange demurrage charges. Those charges should never have been paid.
It amounts to more than US$5M or more than $1B.
SOCU is reportedly checking bank records to see where the monies went.

There are other instances. Already, charges in other matters have been laid against several officials and former board members of GRDB, including former General Manager, Jagnarine Singh, and his deputy, Ricky Ramraj.
Also charged was former board member, Member of Parliament, Dharamkumar Seeraj.
Investigators have detained several persons including prominent Essequibo rice miller, Wazeer Hussein.
They are probing millions of dollars that passed from GRDB to different accounts, including relatives of GRDB officials.

The PetroCaribe deal with Venezuela was considered one of the biggest, as it allowed Guyana to delay its payments for oil and instead use it to develop the country.
However, an upset Venezuela halted the deal in 2015 shortly after the Coalition Government came to office and there was an announcement by US-owned ExxonMobil that it had discovered oil in Guyana’s waters.
Venezuela immediately laid claim to the waters.

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