Almost four years after the matter of the Petrotrin “fake oil” scandal was first raised by the Opposition, Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Limited released the details of a settlement it reached with A&V Oil and Gas Limited CEO Haniff Baksh on Tuesday.
According to essential details of the agreement, the TPHL agreed to pay A&V the over $84 million it was owed for services rendered up to the time of the 2017 termination of its contract, a further $18 million for damages the company suffered and a new 10-year Enhanced Production Services contract with Heritage Petroleum going forward.
The settlement reached essentially undertook some of the recommendations previously handed down by an arbitration panel headed by former Caribbean Court of Justice president Sir Dennis Byron after A&V took the matter to court.
The TPHL’s own legal team, unconvinced of the esteemed arbitration panel’s process and decision, had recommended the arbitration ruling be challenged.
Noteworthy, however, is the fact that the TPHL board subsequently sought further legal advice from Rolston Nelson SC and Simon Hughes QC, both with combined significant legal experience and backgrounds in commercial law and arbitration matters. The TPHL noted that Nelson and Hughes advised that the arbitration panel’s decision was unanimous and it would be hard to overturn it. This, the TPHL board said, ultimately led it to settle in the best interest of the country.
And this is where the TPHL board, or rather those who preceded it on the Petrotrin board, since that company was shuttered in 2018, has questions to answer.
This is because Sir Byron and his team found that Petrotrin had failed to establish that A&V Oil and Gas had misconducted itself or been involved in that wrongful or fraudulent activity which would have warranted Petrotrin’s decision to terminate its contract. If we are to take the arbitration panel’s ruling then, Petrotrin was unable to prove that A&V was involved in fraudulently billing it for oil it did not produce — the allegation made by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar that ultimately sparked the probe and termination of A&V’s services. The conclusion to be made is that those who conducted the probe into the matter did not find definitive evidence to prove the allegation. So on what basis would the Petrotrin board have taken such decisive action, given that it would have had to consult its legal team on any such procedure, given the propensity for it to reach the stage it is at now if they were wrong?
Needless, to say, this is yet another bad call by a board for which the taxpayers will be saddled with paying out.
In light of the recent machinations involving investment calls at the National Gas Company, this newspaper thus agrees with A&V lawyer Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj for a full report on this Petrotrin/A&V matter to be laid in Parliament.
The public must be given the full details on what transpired in this matter and who ultimately took the perilous decision which now has Petrotrin paying out money it no longer has to throw away.