Monday 19 August, 2019

Burke tells PM he was offered US$1-m to broker deal for Petrojam stake

Paul Burke

Paul Burke

Former General Secretary of the opposition People’s National Party (PNP), Paul Burke has disclosed that he was offered US$1 million (J$130 million) to successfully broker a deal between Venezuela and a consortium, of which he is a part, for the acquisition of the 49 per cent stake in Petrojam that is held by that country.

The Jamaican government holds the other 51 per cent stake in the Marcus Garvey Drive-based oil refinery.

Burke made the admission in an "amended letter" to Prime Minister Andrew Holness dated January 19 and which has been made public.

“In the interest of disclosure and transparency in this public matter, I have received no up-front payments, incentives or allowances of any sort, but stand to be paid US$1 million if I can successfully broker this deal. In this regard, I have an agreement to pay the attorney acting on my behalf in Venezuela, a success fee of US$400,000. I therefore and unapologetically, have a vested interest in this matter,” Burke said in his letter.

The company on whose behalf Burke was reportedly working is listed as Cheriton Trading and Investments, with registered offices at 6 Cheriton Road, Kingston 2.

Burke and his consortium have offered to pay the Venezuelans US$55 million (J$7.1 billion) for their 49 per cent stake, while according to former PNP General Secretary Colin Campbell, another Jamaican company had offered the Venezuelans US$100 million for the shares. Campbell, in a column in a local newspaper, said it was noteworthy that the Jamaican government’s offer of US$50 million to the Venezuelans, “strikingly resembles" the US$55 million that was offered by a local company.

Burke’s amended letter to Holness, was also sent in the prime minister’s capacity as energy minister. But, while stating his intention to clear up any misunderstanding in the letter, Burke appears to have deepened the controversy.

In his letter, he tells Holness that he cannot, at this time, make public the names of the other members of the consortium. He also said the consortium was interested in acquiring Petrojam from as far back as the first quarter of 2018 after members were told that the refinery was up for sale and that it would likely be snapped up by the Chinese.

According to Burke, he was “happily prepared to allow cyber experts from the OPM (Office of the Prime Minister), to have access to specific emails and contents, so as to verify and establish the authenticity for, among other things, dates and when members of the consortium first expressed an interest in acquiring Petrojam.

As to the Chinese entity to which Burke said the Jamaican government was interested in divesting its Petrojam shares, Burke said he will not mention the company’s name. But the former general secretary said consortium members were of the view that “Jamaicans could and should own a major stake in this strategic entity.”

“Let me also declare, that if the Government of Jamaica is not interested in purchasing these (Venezuelan) shares, this consortium of investors, at an appropriate time, will demonstrate proof and source of funds. The Jamaican public will then be able to judge, who is sincere and who are ‘poker bluffing’,” said Burke.

“Fortunately, or unfortunately, because this matter was never discussed on any of my phones, police intelligence would not have been able to pick up any information relating to this issue,” Burke added.

He said the first offer was made in early November, 2018  and a final and revised offer was actually made on the November 21, sent to an attorney in Venezuela and dispatched to the Venezuelan Embassy on November 26. He also made public the offer letter written by him in his capacity as CEO of Cheriton.

He indicated that the letter was copied to Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips, PNP spokesman on energy, Phillip Paulwell and PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson as well as relevant permanent secretaries.

Burke described Cheriton as being part of a consortium of investors with an “idyllic mix of talent and sufficiency of financial resources…”. 

He said the purpose of the letter was to “express the consortium's extreme interest in acquiring the republic's (Venezuela’s) equity ownership in Petrojam.”

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