Ja Ag minister wants transaction probe

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica Agriculture Minister Christopher Tufton says a full-scale investigation will be launched into the circumstances surrounding a controversial arrangement between Jamaica Cane Product Sales and Indian company Shreeji Impex Corporation.

JCPS is seeking to recover more than $80 million it had paid over to the company, in cash, in exchange for 6,000 tonnes of fertiliser that never arrived.

“I have asked for an investigation to be conducted in the interest of the sector (and) that a report be submitted to me as minister on the incident,” Tufton told The Gleaner.

He said the investigation was “simply to have an understanding as to what transpired that led to the decision being taken to make a purchase in such a manner”.

According to Tufton, a preliminary inquiry relating to the role of the Sugar Company of Jamaica has revealed that JCPS had asked if it was interested in purchasing cheaper fertiliser and was told that if such could be sourced, it would be considered.

“It would be disingenuous of SCJ to say they have no knowledge of the arrangement because of the three manufacturers on the board, two are from SCJ,” Allan Rickards, chairman of the Jamaica Sugar Cane Growers’ Association, told The Gleaner. He was reacting to suggestions that the SCJ had nothing to do with the purchase.

“Furthermore, 5,000 of the 6,000 tonnes that was ordered was for the SCJ. Only 1,000 tonnes was for private farmers.”

A deal was brokered in March, when the head of a New York-based Jamaican company visited the Ministry of Agriculture, claiming to be able to source and supply the product more cheaply than local importer Newport-Fersan Limited.

Shipment never arrived

A deposit of US$1.4 million (J$105 million) was required and sent to the New York-based agents, who took US$250,000 (approximately J$18 million) as their commission. The shipment was due to arrive in the island between April and May, but never arrived.

The JCPS has since sought to recover its deposit, but only the commission of the New York-based company was returned. The assistance of the Indian High Commission in Jamaica was then sought after JCPS failed to recover US$1.15 million (approximately J$87 million) that the agent claimed was sent to the Indian company.

Indian high commissioner to Jamaica, Mohinder Grover, told The Gleaner yesterday that an inquiry had been initiated after the matter was referred to the Ministry of Commerce and The Serious Fraud Investigation offices of the Department of Company Affairs in his homeland.

“Based on the informal discussions with JCPS, I advised Mr (Karl) James (JCPS general manager) that they should initiate legal proceedings against the Indian company for non-performance of contract, liquidated damages, recovery of advance and criminal breach of trust,” Grover said.

“To me it appears prima facie that there was inadequate due diligence on the part of JCPS on the credentials of the Indian company regarding the terms and provision they were entering into,” he added. “… it is still not clear if the terms of contract were finalised before payment was effected.”

However, according to Rickards, all possible checks were made.

“We can question whether or not the quality due diligence that should have been done was done, but it is not true to say due diligence was not done.”