Man defrauds National Energy Corp

11 November 2011


T&T remains rife with movie material…FBI, Interpol and local Fraud Squad involved

A conman defrauded the National Energy Corporation (NEC) of US$9.6 million (TT$61.7 million) in September by presenting false documents to the corporation’s bankers which enabled money to be transferred to several bank accounts around the world.

The world’s largest international police organisation, Interpol, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in New York, international private investigators and the local Fraud Squad have now launched a manhunt to capture the thief and his associates who were involved in the wire transfer fraud.

About US$4.6 million of the illegally wired money has already been recovered by State bank First Citizens from foreign financial institutions while almost all of the remaining US$5 million in overseas bank accounts has been frozen, Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine said yesterday.

Four NEC officials have been sent on administrative leave with full pay while investigations into the wire transfer fraud continue, a representative of the company confirmed to the Express yesterday.

Ramnarine said he was informed that employees at First Citizens were also suspended. First Citizens is the NEC’s corporate bank.

The NEC is located at Brechin Castle, Pt Lisas. It was incorporated in 1979 to work to monetise the country’s natural gas resources and assisted in construction of the port and marine infrastructure at the Pt Lisas Industrial Estate.

The conman posed as a courier of the NEC and walked into a branch of First Citizens around September 23, just before the Republic Day public holiday, sources close to the investigation said.

He presented four wire transfer documents bearing signatures of NEC officials to facilitate the transfer of funds to overseas bank accounts in Boston, Antigua and Dubai, sources said.

A source described the fraud as a coordinated effort which involved several people pretending to represent different companies in at least three countries.

The conman also had what appeared to be legitimate e-mail confirmations to facilitate the wire transfers, the source said.

Speaking yesterday at the post-Cabinet press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair, Ramnarine said the companies and individuals involved in the wire transfer fraud had no previous connections to the NEC.

He confirmed that First Citizens chief executive officer Larry Howai had recused himself from all decisions related to the investigation because he is also the chairman of the NEC.

Ramnarine said the NEC became aware of the incident on September 26 when officials discovered US$9.6 million missing from its US dollar account.

The NEC contacted First Citizens and notified the Ministry of Energy and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan who has been advising on the matter.

First Citizens then blocked the transfer of funds and alerted Interpol, the FBI and the Fraud Squad and hired international private investigators to assist with “identifying and bringing the culprits to justice”, a statement from the Ministry of Energy said earlier yesterday.

In a statement to the Express yesterday, the NEC said the investigations were sensitive in nature but it had confidence in the teams investigating the matter.

The company said it was satisfied with the progress made to date and would spare no effort in “ensuring that the public monies are recovered in the interest of the people of Trinidad and Tobago”.

Ramnarine said the fraudulent wire transfer would not affect the performance of the NEC or the National Gas Company. The NEC is a subsidiary of the NGC.

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