Atlantic Fuels ask Chief Justice to order release over 600K litres of detained diesel

Atlantic Fuels Inc (AFI) which is owned by Dr. Richard Van West-Charles, former Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Water Incorporation has asked Chief Justice Roxane George to order the release of 635,353 of diesel that has been seized and detained by the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and Guyana Energy Agency (GEA).

The two agencies seized the fuel valued at some $40,000,000 sometime back, after it was alleged that the fuel company tendered falsified invoices to the tax agency. The company’s Director, Eugene Gilbert was in early January hauled before a city court for the offence.

Gilbert pleaded not guilty to the charge which stated that on November 12, 2020, at GRA’s 200-201 Camp Street, Georgetown, headquarters, he caused to be made and subscribed a false declaration, that is invoice number 100 for customs declaration reference number GY 410C. GRA alleges that this was in contrary to Section 217(1) (a) of the Customs Act, Chapter 18:01.

Gilbert was released on $300,000 bail and ordered to return to court on February 12, 2021. This is not the first time the fuel company has been accused of breaching the Customs Act. In fact, in 2019, the company was under investigation by GRA for falsifying invoices.

On November 01, 2020, AFI attempted to import a consignment of 653,353 litres of diesel fuel into Guyana on MV Ms. Robin.  However, lawyers for AFI claimed that the GEA, in a letter dated December 03, 2020, indicated that investigations revealed that the fuel was purchased from Staatsolie, a Surinamese company, as opposed to Global Oil, which GEA says was represented to it by AFI.

The lawyers for AFI also claimed that GEA claims to be in possession of an invoice from Staatsolie, which it said was materially different from the invoice submitted by AFI in terms of the purchaser, and the quantity of oil purchased. As a consequence, the shipment of fuel was, and remains detained.

In the action, Atlantic Fuels Inc v. Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority and Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Energy Agency, AFI disputes making the alleged false declaration, but argues that even if a false declaration was made, that does not permit the detention of the fuel.

As such, AFI has asked the court to grant the following Orders: An order of mandamus to compel GRA and GEA to take all steps necessary to release from their custody and control the fuel in respect of which customs and all other taxes due have already been paid and to otherwise facilitate the importation of the said fuel.

AFI is also seeking an Order of Mandamus to compel GEA to take all steps necessary to mark the fuel in respect of which marking costs have already been paid for to the GRA and to otherwise facilitate the importation of fuel and an Order that the GRA and GEA compensate the fuel company for the storage costs it owes to China Zhonghao Inc.

AFI is also asking that Court Cost be awarded against GRA and GEA and that the two agencies bear the cost of bringing this legal proceeding.

The Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, had been listed as a Respondent to these proceedings. However, Nandlall submitted that he should not have been listed as a party since no Order was requested against him; no allegation of wrongdoing was made against him; and both the GRA and GEA are bodies corporate, which are not represented by the Attorney General’s Chambers.

Justice George persuaded by these submissions, ordered that the Attorney General be removed as a party, and awarded costs in favour of the Attorney General in the amount of $75,000. The action will continue with the other parties.