THE Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) yesterday “exhumed” the 2018 Petrojam scandal, leading to sighs of relief from the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) that what many thought of as deeply buried is back on the post-mortem table.
In a release yesterday, MOCA announced that its detectives had arrested and charged former chairman of Petrojam Dr Perceval Bahado-Singh with 12 counts of obtaining money by means of false pretence.
According to MOCA, the allegations are that between December 2016 and May 2018, Bahado-Singh fraudulently claimed several reimbursements and was paid monies by Petrojam for overseas business trips that he did not attend. MOCA said the false claims over the period amounted to US$73,620.
The State agency said it conducted a thorough multi-jurisdictional investigation into the allegations against Bahado-Singh and prepared and submitted a file to the director of public prosecution, who ruled that criminal charges be filed.
“Dr Bahado-Singh was interviewed in the presence of his attorney and subsequently arrested and charged by MOCA detectives. He was later offered bail, to appear in the Kingston and St. Andrew Parish Court [on] Wednesday, March 17, 2021,” said MOCA, which did not indicate when and where it questioned the former Petrojam chairman who lives in the United States.
In its release, MOCA said investigations continue in the Petrojam matter with a view to conduct other interviews shortly.
In an immediate response to the MOCA release, Opposition spokesman on national security Peter Bunting told the Jamaica Observer that this should serve as an important deterrent to persons in the public sector.
“The public should recall the scandalous waste of taxpayers' funds exposed via a comprehensive audit of Petrojam by the Auditor General's Department in 2018, further amplified in the 2019 hearings into the report by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament.
“Notwithstanding the catalogue of waste identified in the report and in the hearings, this is the first case of criminal charges being laid in the sordid affair,” said Bunting.
He said while the Opposition congratulates MOCA on its tenacity in the investigation into the allegations, it wants to see more action against those who might have raided the public purse.
“When I was instrumental in the establishment of MOCA around 2014, it was precisely the type of situation we intended it to address in terms of corruption, because we recognised that the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) was overwhelmed, and it continues so today, by the high level of violent crimes, and couldn't afford resources to deal with some of the white-collar crime that is taking place,” added Bunting.
According to Bunting, he hopes the charging of Bahado-Singh is the start of accountability into the Petrojam scandal.
“You will recall that there was a set of recommendations that would involve a range of potential sanctions from administrative disciplinary actions to civil servants where it was felt that it fell short of criminal charges, as well as a number of areas where criminal investigations were warranted.
“My assumption is that this is the first, but not the last, of such charges and disciplinary actions,” declared Bunting.
The 2018 audit of Petrojam and review of its parent company, Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), painted a picture of a free-for-all at the State-owned oil refinery where millions of dollars were paid out for contracts that were awarded in breach of the Government's procurement rules and the company's internal policies.
The audit also pointed to “explicit acts of nepotism” at both entities and deficiencies in their human resource recruitment and management practices.
Bahado-Singh resigned as the chairman of Petrojam at the height of the controversy in 2018. It was alleged that he was reimbursed more than US$8,000 for an airline ticket for a trip that had been almost completed before the travel dates on his ticket.
It was also alleged that Bahado-Singh was reimbursed for a trip to Brazil which he did not make.
Bahado-Singh reportedly repaid Petrojam for those two trips in addition to trips to Frankfurt, Germany and London, England which he also did not make.
The Petrojam scandal led to the resignation of then Minister of Science and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley from the Andrew Holness-led Cabinet in 2018.