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Privy Council blocks A&V contract termination

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Privy Council has granted an injunction barring State-owned Petrotrin from taking steps to terminate its contract with A&V Oil and Gas over a billing scandal.

On Wednesday, the United Kingdom-based appellate court granted A&V the injunction pending its appeal over a decision of the High Court to strike out its case against Petrotrin last month. A date for the hearing of the appeal is yet to be set.

The minor legal victory comes after the company’s challenge was refused three consecutive times by local courts.

The company is challenging a decision by High Court Judge Avason Quinlan-Williams to dismiss its claim and refuse it an injunction which would last while the contractual dispute between the parties is being arbitrated. Quinlan-Williams’ decision was then upheld by Appellate Judge Prakash Moosai. However, the company requested that a full three-member Appeal Court panel reconsider the issue.

Last week, the panel comprising of Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Appellate Judges Andre Des Vignes and Charmaine Pemberton approved the two previous decisions.

In her decision, Quinlan-Williams had said Petrotrin was justified in terminating based on the findings of internal and external audit reports into its relationship with A&V.

“Applying an objective test of what reasonable grounds means, Petrotrin had reasonable grounds for suspecting that A&V had misconducted itself based on the information contained in the internal audit report,” Quinlan-Williams said.

She rejected A&V’s claim that Petrotrin was required to disclose the external reports prepared by global oil and gas consultants Gaffney Cline and Kroll Consulting, as she said this was privileged information. She suggested that it was also not entitled to the injunction, as the contract contained a multi-tiered and explicit dispute resolution process which includes negotiation, mitigation and arbitration.

A&V is being represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, Ronnie Bissessar, Vijaya Maharaj and Varin Gopaul-Gosine. Deborah Peake, SC, Ravi Heffes-Doon and Marcelle Ferdinand are representing Petrotrin.

More about case

In 2009, A&V was granted a ten-year licence from Petrotrin to operate its onshore oil fields in Catskills, Moruga.

The scandal involving the two companies was first raised in September last year by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who revealed that Petrotrin’s internal audit had shown that A&V inflated its crude oil production figures, leading to over-payments for oil Petrotrin did not receive. She also questioned the link between the company’s owner Haniff Nizam Baksh and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

Rowley admitted to knowing Baksh and contacting him when the news broke, but has denied any wrongdoing.

In a separate matter, Baksh and his son-in-law Billy Ramsundar, who is a police corporal, have also been charged with assaulting the T&T Guardian’s senior photographer Kristian Da Silva and destroying his camera valued at US$1,600.

That incident occurred on September 15 while Da Silva was on assignment taking photographs of the company’s headquarters at Nizam Avenue, San Francique, as the media were reporting on the matter


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