Jul 22, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – The actions of the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) continue to come under scrutiny, now with an international banker with investments in the local petroleum industry publicly expressing concerns and a United States (US) citizen with investments locally, calling on the US Ambassador to intervene.
This publication over the past week reported on a number of questionable practices being employed by the agency with responsibility for the monitoring of fuel imports into the country and the licensing of dealers in their various classes.The Energy Agency in a public missive on Monday sought to clear the air on just one of the issues raised by this publication out of a series of articles alleging skullduggery, at the least.The GEA on Monday responded to an article where SBF International Inc.’s principal, Dorwain Bess, complained about being charged in relation to fuel transactions conducted in September last around the time his licence was cancelled by the GEA.
Marlon Campbell, President of Osher International IDG Bank and Trust, in a public missive on Monday noted that, “with all the facts in hand from SBF, I am quite confused regarding the GEA’s intent.”
According to Campbell “If, in fact, there was malicious and/or fraudulent intent on behalf of Mr. Bess and SBF Petroleum, then of course the GEA has a responsibility to involve the proper parties and pursue legal recourse including the suspension of SBF’s licence; however, it is extremely clear that is not the case, here.”
He was adamant, “the instant disqualification of the GEA’s claim, based off an altered date of a lease between SBF and Omai Gold Mine–owners of the land—is the simple fact that the landowner continued receiving 13 months of additional payments from SBF.”
According to the International Banker, “this verifies SBF’s position that an understanding had been reached between the parties regarding the extension of the lease. Furthermore, the owner of the land refusal to issue a definitive statement, in support of the facts, implies that he has possibly been compromised.”
As such, the banker was adamant that “if that is, in fact, the case, then we need to ask the deeper question, why?”
He posited that, “immediately upon receiving all the facts, the GEA had the responsibility to re-activate SBF’s licence; to this day that still has not been done.”According to Campbell, “as an investor into the Guyana Petroleum industry, I am personally concerned about the position of the GEA.He suggested, “I am extremely excited about the prospect of contributing to the growth of this wonderful country through creating additional jobs and opportunities” and that “Bess is Guyanese and directly affected by this act, which in-turn affects his ability to employ others and grow.”
As such, he posited, “this should not only concern me but all international investors into Guyana.”
According to Campbell, “I would be highly disappointed to see Bess lose out on an investment(s) that would sincerely improve on the quality of his business, ability to provide additional jobs and opportunities, behind potential acts of maliciousness.”
As such, he has since requested, “that the GEA either re-activate SBF’s license or issue a formal statement, supported by facts, as to why they will not or have not re-activated SBF’s licence.”
He has since further committed to internationalising the affairs of the GEA saying, “I will bring this matter to all our American media resources, including CNN and Government Liaisons in both Congress and the Senate.”
Campbell did concede, “I am not aware of the reasons behind the GEA’s position; therefore, the request of a full statement, supported by facts is being requested.”
He noted “our intent is to support a fair and just outcome,” adding that “we hope the GEA will either reinstate the license or make a firm case, supported by facts, why they will not.”Litigation
The GEA in its formal response to the media on Monday said, it has noted with concern a series of articles published in the Kaieteur News between July 13 and July 19, 2021 on matters concerning the issue and cancellation of licences, conduct of investigations and institution of criminal charges against named individuals and companies.
According to the Energy Agency, “all decisions taken with regard to the grant and cancellation of licences and institution of charges are done fairly, transparently and in accordance with the Guyana Energy Agency Act and Petroleum and Petroleum Products Regulations which govern the Agency.”
Speaking directly to the SBF International’s imbroglio, the GEA in its missive contends that the company and its Director, Bess, have been charged separately with offences of wholesaling and importing of diesel without the required licences following investigations into their operations after the company’s Importing Wholesale Licence was cancelled in September, 2020.
The GEA did contend in its public statement that “the charges faced by the company and Mr. Bess for their unlicenced operations are unrelated to the shipment of fuel referred to by Mr. Bess, for which permission was granted by the Honourable Prime Minister in September, 2020.”
Bess in an invited comment reiterated that he calls the actions on the part of the GEA vindictiveness since the charges purport to relate to selling the same fuel he was cleared and given permission by the GEA and the Prime Minister to discharge despite his licence challenges at the time.
GEA in its statement pointed out that the company, SBF International Inc., previously named Lynwil International (Guyana) Inc., was initially granted an Importing Wholesale Licence in 2011.
In June 2017, the Company submitted documents filed in the Commercial Registry to the GEA indicating that it was no longer named Lynwil International Trading (Guyana) but was now SBF Petroleum Inc. and subsequently in 2019, renewed its licence in the name SBF International Inc., with additional documents filed in the Commercial Registry.
As such, Bess responded saying that the GEA’s reference to a name change of company inherently proves his point and contention that person or persons in the “GEA going after me, why?”
GEA in its statement referenced an incident in June 2020, where there was a spill of approximately 59,000 litres of diesel at its then storage facility at Christianburg, Linden and was issued a Prohibition Notice and fined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
To this, Bess contends that this position being referenced by the GEA only seeks to reinforce his position, since the matter was fully investigated, the site cleaned and a fine paid to the EPA and as such is irrelevant to the matter at hand.
GEA in its missive claimed too that Omai, in a letter to the GEA signed by the Director, indicated that it had never signed any lease with SBF International Inc. for the period 2019/2020 and a subsequent investigation revealed that the lease submitted by SBF was altered.
To this end, Bess reminded that the said landlord for the facility, despite GEA’s claims, collected 13 months rent after the supposed altered date on the lease and that the police had failed to find any evidence to support the claims. A criminal investigation into the matter was requested by the GEA.
This publication understands that at the time the matter was investigated by the Police Force’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the Omai Director never presented himself to contradict the allegations.
Meanwhile, another fuel dealer, has since also written to the US Ambassador to Guyana, Sarah Ann-Lynch, requesting an urgent intervention into the actions of the Energy Agency.
According to the investor in a letter to the Ambassador, he is a US citizen living in Guyana and investing in Guyana for some 10 years and has since taken control of a fuel trading company in Guyana and had applied to the GEA since April.
According to the investor, the recent reportage in the news with regards GEA is cause for concern, since there appears to be some “uncommon due diligence and awkward delays” in his application process.
He qualified his position by pointing out to the Ambassador, “I have submitted all documents required plus several documents that were requested in a second request that are not typically part of the requirement per the GEA website.”
As such, the businessman in his letter to the Ambassador noted, “these articles (published in the KN) have raised concerns because during the (application) process there has been some uncommon due diligence and awkward delays.”
In seeking the Ambassador’s intervention, the investor in his letter contended “I respectfully ask for any assistance you can provide to get the import licence issued as soon as possible.”
SBF International Inc.’s Bess, had come forward this past week to bemoan what he insists is not only malicious prosecution, but also persecution by a person or persons inside of the Energy Agency.
This, Bess posited is since his licence was cancelled over an infraction that he concedes should attract a minimum fine that he is willing to pay and move on. But when contrasted against the actions meted out to other dealers caught publicly robbing the treasury of billions of dollars, “it has to be vindictiveness or some other thing.”
He said too, the cumulative actions by members of the GEA have led to his conviction that he is being persecuted by vindictive individuals.
Bess in an interview with this publication noted that his licence was cancelled by the GEA on September 14 last year, and from then to now, he has been unable to conduct any business and his facilities are being left to deteriorate.
The genesis of the licence being cancelled is muddled, but officially begins with that of an altered date on a lease agreement, purportedly with the knowledge of the landlord—a senior executive of Omai Gold Mine’s, the company that owns the property in Christianburg, Linden.
Bess told this newspaper that at the time the documentation had to be submitted, the Omai Executive was out of the country but had given permission for the date on the lease be altered, in order to renew the lease between SBF International and Omai with the rental cheques being paid in the name of the landlord—the senior executive. This was done in 2019, according to Bess and business continued.
The GEA in a subsequent investigation had claimed to be in possession of a letter from the Omai executive that said, he had no intention renewing the lease. Bess’ counter, however, is that his company officials felt all was well since the landlord was accepting payments on the rented facility and was being provided with payment receipts up until April 2020.
This would mean that the same landlord who claimed to GEA he had no intention renewing the lease, in fact, collected payments for 13 more months to the tune of millions.
Rent at that time on the leased property was $1,590,000 per month. “Our company in representation of fraud allegations issued by the GEA in 2020, explained what had transpired, but our explanations were disregarded by officials of the agency…Instead, the GEA deemed the matter as one of fraudulent nature, and on September 14, last year cancelled, our licence.”
A criminal investigation was subsequently ordered by the GEA following its internal probe, and the matter handed over to the CID.
This publication understands that not only did the police find there was no evidence to support any criminal charges, the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) also recommended that no criminal charges could be laid. This was in December 2020. The State’s Attorney at the time had advised that no charges be instituted and no suspension or revocation to follow.
Bess told this publication, he believes that the constant pursuit of court action against his company by the GEA is in order to hold them like a ‘sword of Damocles over his head, in order to ensure the licence is not returned to the company.
The GEA had in August 13 last written to SBF to ‘show cause’ why the licence should not be cancelled and at the same time, refused to clear fuel that had been ordered and paid for prior, and arrived in Guyana while the licence was still in force,
“If this is not vindictiveness, what is,” Bess questioned rhetorically, telling this publication “our company in less than two years has paid about $2B dollars in taxes to Guyana’s economy.”
He again questioned rhetorically, “look at those large companies that are not even Guyanese owned that are being caught robbing this country billions through all kinds of means and what happens to them, they get a slap on the wrist. You don’t hear GEA going after them, so why are they coming after me, a man who born in Belladrum, make a few dollars in the [United] States and come home and invest it.”
He reminded of his investments now lying dormant across the country that includes two gas stations and a number of storage facilities including one recently constructed for the sole supply of a bauxite company, four oil tankers—a contract to the tune of millions that he has lost out on for one year now since the contract imbroglio.
Additionally, the jobs of some 100 persons have been left in limbo during a global pandemic and a company now in debt with a number of investors and other creditors to be paid.
Bess has since exited the Omai facility and has already constructed another facility meeting all of the GEA’s requirements with vessels already certified to load at refineries.
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