Speaker of the House Brigid Annisette-George is now in the hot seat after the Opposition referred her to the Inter-Parliamentary Union and Committee of Parliamentary Association for failing to recuse herself from the discussion of how the Paria Fuel Trading Company sold and shipped fuel to Aruba.
Annisette-George is the wife of Paria Fuel chairman Newman George, who brokered the deal with an unknown Swiss-based company owned by Wilmer Ruperti, a long-time sympathiser and supporter of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Ruperti’s ES Euro Shipping SA purchased a fuel shipment from Paria Fuel which is alleged to have subsequently been sent to Venezuela despite the current US embargo. Venezuela is reported to have received 150,000 barrels of gasoline from Ruperti’s company.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Minister of National Security Stuart Young and George are still silent on the issue, even in the face of confirmation that the US government is aware of reports that the Paria fuel which left T&T and was shipped to Aruba may have ended up in Venezuela.
The US State Department has made it clear that any country or company found to be complicit in facilitating energy business activity with Venezuela will also face sanctions.
But while the Government refused calls and messages on this matter again yesterday, the Opposition demanded an immediate response.
On April 27, Oroupouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal brought up this issue in Parliament as a definite matter of urgent public importance but was shut down by Annisette-George.
Moonilal said yesterday that the letter against Annisette-George is expected to be completed shortly.
“The involvement of the chairman of Paria Trading, Newman George, it is my respectful view that the Speaker of the House turned down the motion but at no time did the Speaker suggest that the deputy speaker rule on it instead,” Moonilal said.
“This fuel trade involves a company of which her husband is the chairman, so I think that the Speaker should have recused herself because she was conflicted and compromised.
“Her husband was at the centre of this matter and she ruled on a motion involving him. It speaks to improper conduct in office.
“At no time did she acknowledge that her husband is the chairman of the fuel company and that is a very serious offence.”
Moonilal also questioned the timing of the visit of Venezuelan vice-president Delcy Rodriguez and the call between Ruperti and George. Rodriguez met with Rowley on March 27 and George received a call which put the fuel shipment deal in train on March 28.
“A big question is, in this time of international shutdowns, where did they get the contact information for George and Paria Trading that they could have called him? When did the board meet and take this decision?” he asked.
Moonilal is now demanding that George make all board minutes public.
“How did this company get wind of Paria Trading at a time like this? When the board took this decision, how much hours after the call did they take this decision?” he asked
George, in an earlier interview with the T&T Guardian, had said Paria did its due diligence before selling the oil to Euro Shipping.
But Moonilal questioned how that was possible.
“Did Paria send a team to Switzerland? How did they do any due diligence in that short period of time?” he asked.
Moonilal also linked George and Rowley.
“It is already well-known that they are golfing buddies,” he said.
He is now questioning whether Rowley and George conversed over this issue.
“Rowley is at the epicentre of this scandal because he met with the Venezuelan Vice-president one day and hours later George was in contact with this company,” Moonilal said.
In an AP News report on April 29, Ruperti defended assisting Venezuela amid its current fuel shortage.
In that interview, Ruperti said that he would do whatever it takes to prevent the worsening fuel situation in Venezuela, saying it was “humanitarian work.” He also declined to say where he was purchasing the fuel. According to the AP report, the purchases were partially funded by Venezuelan-owned PDVSA. Ruperti said that his lawyers notified the US Treasury Department about his plans and received no objections.