Two days after National Security Minister Stuart Young denied knowing beforehand the identities of the six-member delegation that accompanied Venezuela’s Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez on her March 27 trip to T&T, a document has surfaced online purportedly showing the exemption order he granted for them to enter the country.
Included in the document were the names and passport numbers of the entire delegation, the type of aircraft they were travelling on and the times of the plane’s departure from and return to Venezuela.
The letter, dated March 26, 2020, was addressed to Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews and signed by the National Security Ministry permanent secretary Gary Joseph.
It advised that:
“The Minister of National Security has conveyed an exemption to the current travel restrictions to the following members of the Venezuelan Delegation expected to arrive and depart Trinidad and Tobago on Friday, March 27, 2020.”
The group included Rodriguez, Asdrubal Chavez, Juan Vincente Santana, Alejandra Bastidas, Manuel Jimenez, Major Kenny Diaz Rosario, and Antonio Perez-Suarez.
The document, which bears the letterhead of the ministry, also contained the aircraft details, which indicated it was a Falcon 2000EX (F2TH).
If the document is genuine, it contradicts a statement Young made on the matter earlier this week as he defended Government in the face of continued questions by the Opposition about what was discussed at the meeting and whether it had any bearing on a fuel deal Paria Trading Company made with fuel tycoon Wilmer Ruperti.
Ruperti is a known Nicolas Maduro sympathiser who has previously sent fuel to Venezuela in defiance of US sanctions. There are allegations that the fuel shipment sold to Ruperti’s ES Euro Shipping in Aruba was subsequently sent to Venezuela.
The fuel deal and the fact that Delcy, who is also under US travel sanctions, and her team were allowed into T&T are now being looked at by the US authorities. Two members of Delcy’s team in that meeting with Rowley, Chavez and Santana, are executives of Venezuelan energy company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). Chavez was appointed vice president of the commission to restructure PDVSA soon after the T&T meeting while Santana is the vice president of gas. (See other story)
Up to late yesterday, repeated attempts by Guardian Media Limited to ascertain from Young if the document was, in fact, authentic were unsuccessful, as he failed to respond to WhatsApp messages or answer calls.
Similar WhatsApp messages to Gandhi-Andrews also went unanswered.
However, a source with information on how ministry protocol operates said yesterday that all exemption documents, especially given that the country’s borders are closed, would have to be okayed by the minister before going to the permanent secretary, who would then carry out the instruction of the minister. The source said a permanent secretary also does not have authority to handle such high profile governmental matters.
During the daily press COVID-19 briefing by the Ministry of Health on Monday, Young defended Government against the Opposition’s allegations on the fuel issue after a flight manifest had shown Rodriguez’s delegation included PDVSA officials. Delcy and other members of her delegation were also under travel sanctions and the plane was owned by PDVSA and also sanctioned by the US.
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 Young maintained that 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, which it supplies along with the rest of 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.
Addressing details of the delegation and the plane they came on specifically, Young said, “We did not know the type of plane. We did not know the rest of the delegation.”
He said a second Venezuelan person in the meeting was a Mr Chavez but Government didn’t know Chavez’s role in the meeting and acknowledged he became PDVSA head a month later.
During a press conference last Friday on the issue, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley also said he did not have any information relating to the aircraft the delegation would have been using.
He said, “That is a matter for Civil Aviation department once we gave the approval for the visit to take place. Matters relating to equipment is a matter for Civil Aviation. And as far as I am aware, I know nothing nor did anybody in my delegation know anything about any particular aircraft. We now discovering this.”
However, director general of the T&T Civil Aviation Authority Francis Regis subsequently denied that monitoring sanctions and embargo assets were part of the body’s mandate. Regis said questions on who was responsible for a sanctioned plane landing in the country needed to be directed to National Security.
During the conference, Rowley also labelled Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar “a traitor” and accused her of conspiring to get the United States to sanction T&T over the Paria deal.
Earlier that day, Persad-Bissessar had produced a manifest from the March 27 flight that brought Rodriquez and the delegation into the country for a brief meeting with Rowley which Government said dealt with COVID-19.
Persad-Bissessar queried whether Rowley had also held talks with the Paria Fuel Company over the fuel deal during that meeting although it was announced Rodriquez had come to discuss COVID-19 related matters.