22 June 2014

Zimbabwe: First Oil Directors Face Prosecution

Directors of First Oil, the company at the centre of the US$2,7 million botched fuel deal, face prosecution as the docket prepared by the CID Serious Frauds Squad was now at the Prosecutor-General's office, sources said last week.

First Oil has failed to deliver 3 million litres of diesel to the Central Mechanical Engineering Department (CMED) despite being paid last year.

Also facing prosecution are Petrotrade acting chief executive officer Tanaka Sikwila and National Oil Infrastructure Company (NOIC) executive officer Wilfred Matukeni.

Sikwila and Matukeni are accused of allegedly misleading CMED's bankers to release the money on the grounds that they were holding fuel on behalf of First Oil.

A source in the PG's office said last week that the docket was handed over on Wednesday. "The docket is now at our office and the accused will appear in court soon," the source said.

In February last year, First Oil won a tender to supply 3 million litres of diesel shrugging off interest from Sakunda Energy, Comoil and Maps Petroleum. Despite being paid the money, First Oil failed to deliver the fuel, prompting CMED to report them to the CID Frauds Squad.

CMED's bankers, ZB Bank, had released the money after being assured by both NOIC and Petrotrade that fuel was available and would only released after payment had been made.

In a March 1 2013 letter, NOIC chief executive officer Matukeni wrote to CMED's bankers that the diesel was already available.

"This letter serves as confirmation that we are holding 3 million litres of diesel on behalf of Petrotrade that has been reserved for First Oil Company at our Msasa storage tanks," Matukeni said.

Petrotrade had also written to CMED that it was holding 3 million litres of diesel for First Oil.

"We hereby confirm that we have reserved the above mentioned volume of diesel on behalf of Globe Investments/ORPSA and First Oil for onward release to CMED upon full confirmation of payment," Petrotrade acting chief executive officer Sikwila wrote in a March 5 2013 letter.

"May you kindly take note that we will irrevocably reserve the product for CMED until payment has been finalised."

Sikwila said the fuel would be released within 72 hours on receipt of confirmation of payment.

When payment was made, no fuel was delivered with First Oil writing to CMED last month that it was "working to have schedules of product importation upon which we can premise and firm up our commitment to CMED".

The pending prosecution comes as fresh details showed that First Oil was panicking and had asked for some time so that it puts its house in order.

In a May 2 2014 letter, First Oil managing director Alex Mahuni told CMED of the changes in circumstances that had previously affected to deliver the fuel.

"The operating licence and the necessary logistical agreements are in place and for that, we are indebted to the indulgence of the ministry of Energy and Power Development who took special regard to the need to avail to us the opportunity to make good our obligation to CMED after the unfortunate and criminal default by the supplier, Micro-Petroleum Global," Mahuni wrote.

"We therefore request that you indulge us a bit further while we finalise this process."

Last week the new CMED board led by Godwills Masimirembwa exonerated the company's management, adding that it would pursue the matter and make a recovery. On its appointment two weeks ago, the board was tasked by Transport and Infrastructure Development minister Obert Mpofu to recover the money.

"If they [First Oil] don't supply, the law has to take its course. I want the board to bring the people to account and make them make good on the prejudice to the State," he said.

Mpofu said there were claims that the suppliers were "untouchable", but "we are going to touch them".

"We want that money and it will be repaid," Mpofu said.

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