Clues lead to mystery Trini conman in Guyana
(Trinidad Express) It has been five-and-half-years since a conman and his associates defrauded the National Energy Corporation (NEC, now National Energy) of $60 million with authorities still clueless as to who perpetrated the act.
Of that amount, $25 million still remains unaccounted for, with $17 million lodged at a Dubai bank. In addition, there is a new story about the other $8 million (US$1.2m) apparently sent to Central International Company Ltd (CIC) in Boston, USA.
New information has however been uncovered by the Express which has been following the money trail over the last two years, into the $60 million wire transfer fraud at National Energy in September 2011.
The Express has found a fake paper trail of cheese shipments to Guyana to throw off financial investigators while more than $8 million was converted into gold and later shipped to Dubai from Brazil.
The $60 million was split in three directions.
1. A wire transfer of $8 million (US$1.2m) to CIC in Boston.
2. A second wire transfer for $35 million (US $4.7m) to an attorney in Antigua
3. And a third transfer of $17 million (US $3.75m) to a bank in Dubai.
The money sent to Antigua was recovered but red tape has been making it difficult to retrieve the funds funnelled to Dubai.
First Citizens hires investigators
The bank through which the fraudulent transaction passed was First Citizens which hired Kroll — an internationally recognised corporate investigations firm — to track the $8 million to CIC in Boston. Kroll investigators discovered invoices dated October 2011 for large quantities of Australian cheese, apparently purchased from CIC — an import/export business.
The consignee named on the document was G Bacchus Enterprise, in Georgetown, Guyana.
Kroll investigators said in a report they tried to determine whether a vessel named Cap Beaufort, which was identified on the invoice, transported the cheese from Australia to Guyana.
However, after an exhaustive search of all Australian cheese manufacturers, Kroll concluded it was unable to link any of the listed companies as utilising the services of CIC as the exporter of their products.
They also traced the ports where the shipping vessel Cap Beaufort had docked from as far back as May 2011 to December 2011.
Kroll investigators found “Guyana was never listed as a destination”.
Kroll also concluded Guyana was not a port where the Cap Beaufort, owned by shipping line Hamburg Sud, even did business.
After extensive interviews with Guyanese customs and port officials, the Kroll report determined there was “no evidence to suggest CIC utilised a vessel named Cap Beaufort to transport cheddar cheese goods from Australia to Guyana.”
Financial investigators believe the invoices were created for a cheese shipment that never existed, used to create a fake paper trail, and distract anyone trying to track the money.
Where did the money really go?
The Express started by contacting the man listed on the invoice as the consignee for the cheese: Rahaman Goolmohed Bacchus, in Guyana.
When we spoke to him on the telephone on March 29, he had agreed to meet when we arrived in Guyana the following week.
When the Express turned up at his warehouse in Georgetown, Guyana, to ask him about the questionable invoices, a worker indicated Bacchus was not in the country.
Arriving later at his main head office an employee indicated Rahaman was in the country but was not available to speak to us.
Financial investigators for Kroll said they had interviewed Bacchus in Guyana, when they were there in November 2011.
He told them he had never received any cheese and knew nothing about the shipment.
Bacchus’s lawyer, Gordon Gilholkes, spoke to us on the phone on April 7, saying his client was not willing to discuss this matter or any other business dealings he had.
But Kroll wasn’t finished in Guyana.
Investigators obtained credible information that led them to believe the conman entered Guyana with a significant amount of the money that was supposedly wired to CIC in Boston.
They then turned their attention to the bustling America Street, where you can get just about any currency exchanged, but where the US dollar remains king.
Along America Street in Georgetown, Guyana, persons trade gold or foreign currency using a nickname.
Hot on the trail of the money and the Trinidadian mystery man, investigators were reliably informed he had contacted a Guyanese businessman to trade the US$1.2 million (TT$8 million) with a nickname ensuring he remained anonymous.
“You can come here with US$300,000, $400,000 and once the money is good we’ll take it from you. We do not need to know your real name,” said one of the men hustling the US currency along the street, who spoke with the Express.
With the monetary arrangement firmed up with the Guyanese businessman connections on America Street, it was then time to meet at a private location.
Investigators with an intimate knowledge of this case say the mysterious Trinidadian man rendezvoused at the Ramada Georgetown Princess Hotel in late 2011.
Sources say an associate of a well known Guyanese businessman met the mysterious Trinidadian man and “he exchanged over $1 million US dollars for Guyanese currency.”
Investigators say the mystery man then headed into the Guyanese interior where he purchased the equivalent in gold. They were further informed he crossed the Brazilian border and placed the gold on a ship that was destined for Dubai.
Investigators familiar with the case said they arrived at the hotel about three weeks later, after the meeting, that supposedly took place in the lobby and asked to peruse the security cameras.
“Unfortunately, in those days the cameras would usually wipe footage every two days,” said a source.
The Trinidadian conman lived to fight another day since they weren’t able to get a handle on his identity, nor that of the associate he met.
Kroll then turned their investigations into the gold-mining business in Guyana — and sought the assistance of Nigel Hinds and Associates Financial Services based in Georgetown to track the Trinidadian mystery man’s gold-buying activities.
Hinds, who spoke to the Express, said in late November 2011 he had managed to track down a gold miner, who could help the Kroll investigators possibly pinpoint the mysterious Trinidadian.
“I think the connecting points to the person would have been the mining industry that the person would have some association and would have travelled to Dubai and I think that was the general or main parameters around which we attempted to locate the person,” Hinds explained.
Hinds said he later wrote to the financial investigators in a letter outlining what the gold miner called Party A — (to protect his identity) — needed clarity on before he could assist.
“We were able to arrange an interview with the owner of a mining business. Generally, the information we got from him, well before he answers any questions, he would need to know who the investigators represented and purpose of the investigation and any other relevant information,” he said.
Hinds had at this time submitted an invoice for payment before they proceeded further, but Kroll, he said, never responded.
Financial investigators familiar with the case told the Express that First Citizens had asked them to stop the investigation at this critical juncture, at a time when they were closing in on the conman and were also close to obtaining the shipping documents of the gold shipped from Brazil to Dubai, and the names of the sender and receiver.
“What we were told is that this could be detrimental to the lives of many people because of the players involved,” a source said.
Hinds was certain that had the financial investigators followed through with the bank’s blessings they would have been one step closer to nabbing the culprits.
So why did First Citizens stop the investigation? And what action did they take internally against their employees following this $60 million fraudulent wire transfer?
Find out in Part Two tomorrow.