Stuart Young, Minister of National Security

A clause in the Paria Fuel Trading Company contract regarding the controversial oil shipment to Aruba stipulated that the fuel shouldn’t go to any country which was under sanction by the US – such as Iran, South Korea or Venezuela.

“That’s how Paria protected T&T,” National Security Minister Stuart Young declared yesterday.

“The sale of fuel by Paria is covered. This debunks that claim that Paria sold the fuel to Venezuela – there was no mishandling of Government’s part.”

Young gave the information during yesterday’s COVID-19 media update as he addressed border issues to defend Government against Opposition allegations on the fuel issue. The UNC’s claimed that soon after Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez’s March visit to T&T, Paria sold an oil shipment to fuel tycoon Wilmer Ruperti’s Aruba company which ended up in Venezuela in violation of US sanctions.

Young also replied to UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar further allegation that a flight manifest had shown Rodriguez’s delegation included officials of Venezuelan state oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) who were also sanctioned by the US and that Prime Minister Keith Rowley placed T&T in “grave danger” by also allowing Rodriguez to enter T&T on a plane sanctioned by the US.

Rowley has backhanded Persad-Bissessar’s claims, noting he hadn’t checked the ownership of Rodriguez’s plane or been introduced to her delegation’s members. He accused Persad-Bissessar of being a “traitor” by seeking a US sanction against T&T. She’s since threatened to sue him over the claim.

Yesterday, Young said when the UNC’s allegations on the fuel sale emerged, requests were made to Paria and he also spoke to the chairman of Trinidad Petroleum Holdings. Information was supplied about the contract and clause and he maintained as far as he was aware, the fuel was sold by Paria for onward transmission to Aruba.

He said Paria’s contract was clear on the sale to Aruba, to which it supplies along with the region. He said a very important clause inserted into the contract prevented buyers from reselling Paria’s fuel to countries sanctioned by the US.

“That clause by Paria in the sale of the fuel to Aruba, or for transmission to Aruba, stated that fuel isn’t for any sanctioned country – not for Iran, South Korea or for Venezuela,” he said, noting countries under US sanction.

Young couldn’t say specifically why the clause was inserted, or how long such arrangements were being made in Paria’s contracts.

On the UNC’s queries about Rodriguez’s visit, Young said T&T has “no horse in the race” and allowed Rodriguez’s visit in continued recognition of T&T’s United Nations obligations.

Rodriguez was appointed Venezuela’s lead COVID co-ordinator in February. With her request in early March for a meeting, Young said there was no question of asking what she was coming to discuss. She was expected to arrive March 16 but Young asked her to delay after she developed a flu.

Young confirmed the landing of the Venezuelan plan was authorised but said, “I don’t know who owns the plane, what type of plane, who was on the manifest.”

As an example of the practice, Young said the US sought permission from T&T for two military planes to land, leave and return.

“I just gave approval as it was the US government. I don’t know who came on that flight, the only condition was they couldn’t disembark. Similar requests were made by other countries. I don’t ask what type of plane it is, who owns it and who was on the plane,” he said, adding the public service usually provides such information.

He said that at no time did he ask what plane Rodriguez was coming on.

At the March 27 meeting, Young said there were only five people in the room: himself, the Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs Minister Dennis Moses and the Venezuelan delegation of Rodriguez and a “Mr Chavez.” He said the Venezuelan visitors wore personal protective equipment.

“Mr Chavez wasn’t introduced to us as any vice president or head of PDVSA. It was subsequently found out he was on a team for the restructuring of PDVSA. A month later he was made PDVSA head,” Young said.

He said it was brief meeting since everyone was conscious of time.

“We discussed matters regarding COVID and also about the Venezuelan population in T&T. We asked about COVID in Venezuela. There was an offer of test kits from them but we declined since they have a larger population. Chavez was quiet in the meeting. At the time it wasn’t known what his role was.”

Young said T&T delegations didn’t meet anyone else from the Venezuelan delegation, no minutes of the meeting were taken since there were only five people present and no-one was taking notes.

“The Prime Minister’s office later issued a release (on the visit) for transparency purposes,” Young said.

He also sought to reassure over the strength of T&T/US relations, saying he spoke to US Ambassador Joseph Mondello last week on his request. He said the US’ position is that they’d seen information on the issue in “open source” documents (social media etc).

Saying the US is one of T&T’s allies, he said both countries worked together on a $660 million drug bust last month.