(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — A 76-year-old woman was arrested by the police Friday evening after they raided premises in Greenwich Town, St Andrew, and seized, among other things, nine 45-gallon drums of assorted fuel and two gas pumps.
The exercise was part of a joint police/military operation to clamp down on the illicit gas business that is known to thrive in the community.
The Jamaica Observer visited the scene during the operation, where men from the community were seen assisting the security officers to remove the barrels of petrol from the premises and load them unto a Jamaica Defence Force service truck.
The police later told the Sunday Observer that the arrest of the senior citizen was a continuation of a series of raids during the day in which a further 19 45-gallon drums were seized from other residences in Greenwich Town.
Ten of the overall number of drums seized were said to be filled with petrol.
The joint forces also seized 19 45-gallon drums of petrol from several other residences inside the community. Some five-gallon buckets were also seized.
The items were taken to the security forces’ operations base at Metcalfe Street, Denham Town, west kingston.
Superintendent Leon Clunis, who led the operation, told the Sunday Observer that the elderly woman gave a statement saying that she inherited the business from her husband since he died, and she decided to continue the operation.
“This old lady, who will be charged, she has two pumps and she also has a kerosene business, but it is evident that she also uses it for the illegal gas. The residence has two gas pumps, supplying many litres of petrol per day. If you go and press the pump now, there is no kerosene there, but there is gas.
“She said it’s a business her husband who died used to operate and she has continued. But almost everybody in the community is doing it. It’s just that hers is more profound because she has pumps. And so, it also seems evident that this lady runs a lucrative business,” Supt Clunis said.
A sign which read “Authorised gas sold here” was seen displayed on the front gate of the elderly woman’s Fourth Street residence. In an attempt to defend herself, police said the woman presented a licence to substantiate her kerosene business.
However, Detective Inspector Marcel Bedward from the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Division, which is leading the investigation, told the Sunday Observer that the woman’s license expired in 2017. Subsequently, he said the woman will be charged with several breaches of the Petroleum Act.
“Based on what we went on the ground and saw, she is likely to be charged with three to four breaches of the Petroleum Act. The fact that she was in possession of the illicit gas, the fact is that she sells it, the fact is that the premises is not licensed for it and she also is not licensed to sell it. So there are avenues that will be explored for charges to be proffered.”
As for the other residences where the illegal gas was also found, Superintendent Clunis said law enforcers were not able to find the perpetrators.
However, the elderly woman reportedly told police that almost everybody in the community is involved in the illicit gas business. Based on the seizures, Clunis corroborated her report.
“Within the community, almost [on] every street somebody is doing some illegal gas operation, and from what I have seen in the community and from this small operation, thousands of litres of Petrojam fuel is evidently coming this way.
“This is evident based on what we took from several homes, but we can’t charge anybody for it because we didn’t find anybody in there, and we don’t know who the players are. Some of the residences are tenements so we’re not sure who lives where. But the residents know that if they are found there, then they are going to be held with whatever is found,” Clunis said.
Also, the elderly woman reportedly told police that she buys the petrol from truck operators who get the commodity from the gas station at Petrojam.
“What she is also saying is that the guys who drive the trucks, they will sell her a five-litre or a 10-litre, and that’s how she buys it. One man told me that they (truck drivers) will go to the gas station at Petrojam and they will bleed the gas pumps there from the trucks in five-gallon containers and take them away in cars, and then they will go and fill their 45 gallons elsewhere. But it is evidently a lucrative business for some of the truck operators and the residents of this community,” Clunis continued.
Superintendent Clunis explained that the find is part of an ongoing investigation into the $5.2 billion worth of fuel that was unaccounted for between 2013 and 2018 at the State-owned oil refinery Petrojam.
“Since the massive loss at Petrojam, it is our responsibility to look to see what is happening in relation to the loss. The police have been working together to find out what really happened to that gas.
“The army would have gone in and done the necessary checks in relation to the pipeline, and now this is the land aspect of things where we are looking in communities where we learnt that persons may be operating. We came in this morning, having done our assessment. We were successful, not in finding the perpetrators, but certainly in terms of the product. We have found one perpetrator and unfortunately, it’s an old lady,” Clunis continued.
Going forward, the superintendent said the joint forces will be carrying out similar operations in other communities.
“Wherever we have information about the possibility that petrol stolen from Petrojam exists, we are going to go and find it. This community is just one, based on the information we have received so far,” he went on.
The elderly woman, whose identity was withheld by the police, was later offered bail after she was charged.