Denouncing smear campaign by SBF Director

Dear Editor,
Embattled Director of SBF International Inc and SBF Petroleum Inc, Dorwain Bess continues to malign the character and professionalism of officers of the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) while simultaneously portraying himself as an individual who has scant regard for the legal processes of Guyana.
Even though some of these matters are sub-judice and we have been restrained from commenting on them, as Chairman I have noted that Bess, through a series of articles published in the Kaieteur News, presented convenient half-truths and blatant misrepresentations in attempting to paint the GEA as a villain in his fallacious tale of woe and victimisation.
Having been provided a detailed summary as to the history of the companies Lynwil International Trading Inc, SBF Petroleum Inc and SBF International Inc and their operations throughout the period of the companies’ Importing Wholesale Licence and comparing the information provided by Bess in his various interviews, I am left puzzled as to the true intent behind his public outbursts and protestations.
Whether through the Journalist’s editorialisation of the KN article dated July 26, 2021 or Bess’ false account of the sequence of events, attempts by Bess to portray the GEA as being involved in vindictive, high-handed, conspiratorial actions against his company are easily proved inaccurate by following the written paper trail of communications concerning the company’s eventual eviction from the Christianburg facility.
Bess claimed to have had conversations with a former Director of his company, with the Director referencing charges against Christopher Jones and an attempted hostile takeover which was followed by the “sudden” investigation of the lease by GEA and refusal of GRA and GEA staff to conduct marking at the terminal.
A check of any media outlet’s reporting would show that the incident with Christopher Jones occurred in the latter part of August 2020. The incident involving the refusal of entry to GEA and GRA staff occurred much earlier on May 29, 2020. SBF was written to about refusal of entry and requested to provide an updated lease on June 10, 2020 and Omai informed the GEA of the altered lease by letter dated June 30 but received on July 7, 2020. The Notice Before Cancellation was issued on August 13, 2020 after the GEA had already received confirmation from Omai’s Director about the lease’s authenticity.
For the first time, Bess in the KN article dated July 19, 2021 has claimed that the company knowingly submitted an altered lease to the GEA to support his application for an Importing Wholesale Licence, an admission never once made in the 30 days within which he and his company were provided to show cause why his company’s Importing Wholesale Licence should not be cancelled.
Bess also admitted in the KN article dated July 26, 2021 that even before the effective cancellation of his company’s licence, the company had been evicted from the Christianburg site and had no permission from the EPA to bunker fuel from one vessel to the other despite being informed by GEA of the need to obtain same months prior. What he omitted to say was that at that time, the company had no other authorised storage facilities for the continuation of its business as an importer and, therefore, provided no cause why the licence should not be cancelled.
It should be noted that the company utilised the said eviction as an excuse to the EPA as to why it was unable to complete the clean-up and restoration activities required by that entity following a spill of 59,000 litres of diesel at the site. In fact, this failure to comply with the conditions of the withdrawal of a previous Prohibition Notice resulted in that Notice regaining effect. Nowhere in his many articles has Bess stated this.
Bess claims that his company SBF International (or perhaps SBF Petroleum as the distinction between the two is negligible) has constructed large facilities and the articles published are accompanied by photographs of multiple red storage tanks standing on red soil. Bess, on behalf of SBF, has to date submitted no documents to the Agency with regard to this storage site, despite being aware of the documents needed to support an application for a licence. In fact, the site appears to be leased to another company Alpha Petroleum Trading Inc of which Bess was a former Director. Persons familiar with the requirements for safe bulk storage of fuel can simply examine the photos displayed and determine whether the site in fact appears ready for fuel storage.
Bess on two consecutive days submitted applications for Importing Wholesale Licences on behalf of SBF International Inc and Alpha Petroleum Trading Inc. Despite being from two different companies, the applications were almost identical in their contents, claiming to utilise similar suppliers and storage facilities. A further startling connection between the two companies was revealed in the KN article dated July 22, 2021 where one Marlon Campbell of the “Osher International IDG Bank & Trust” was quoted as making statements concerning SBF’s licence cancellation. Another similarly titled company, Osher International Banking & Trust supplied a letter of intent signed by one Marlon Campbell, to provide funding to the tune of millions of United States dollars to another Director of Alpha for investments to Guyana. The stark similarity in the names and barely noticeable distinctions have not gone unnoticed by the vigilant and diligent staff of the GEA.
Though very little information can be found about the capacity of this “international bank” to source and provide such significant funds to Bess, SBF, Alpha or any other entity, its very public and emphatic support for an individual is quite unlike the posture taken by the many publicly-recognised and accredited international funding agencies with which the GEA and other entities have interacted.
As Chairman, I was requested to meet with another Director, Vincent Firth, of Alpha Petroleum, who said that if a licence was not granted to SBF and granted to Alpha instead, he would immediately transfer the licence from Alpha to SBF. In this meeting on April 22, 2021, Firth claimed that he was the sole financier of SBF. In what appears to be an attempt at negotiating away the illegalities committed by SBF, Firth offered to withdraw SBF’s court action against GEA challenging the licence’s cancellation if the Agency “restored” SBF’s licence. In this meeting, Firth even went so far as threatening to launch an aggressive public campaign against the GEA and Dr Sharma if the licence to SBF was not restored. This I interpreted as an attempt to blackmail the GEA.
On seeking clarity as to the relationship between the two entities considering the overt similarity in their applications, the GEA received two letters, one from Bess and Firth containing almost identical language that Bess was just a Consulting Director of Alpha, which was the business of Firth, and that SBF was really Bess’ business, with which he shared a Directorship with one Dannel Munroe.
As what may be viewed as an attempt to paint a picture of distance between the two companies, Firth claimed that Bess had resigned as a Director of Alpha; however, checks in the Commercial Registry showed that its Directors remained the same. It was not until after the GEA requested incorporation documents from Firth showing the change in Directors, that changes were made to the records in the registry. The shareholding of the company also changed showing Firth as the sole shareholder, while Bess and a named Attorney-at-Law were previously the only two Directors.
While Bess claims to have several employees on the breadline, two service stations on the West Coast of Demerara bear the names SBF Petroleum on their canopies. What Bess has not revealed is that one of those gas stations is leased to Alpha Petroleum and not SBF as the canopy may portray. The other gas station is in fact unlicensed despite the GEA requesting the owner to regularise the station’s status. Had the GEA and its officers been as vindictive as Bess claims, the Agency would not have exercised the great leniency it has and Bess and/or his company would be facing their third criminal charge for unlicensed operations. Of note, contrary to what was said by Bess on July 26, 2021, GEA has not instituted a private criminal charge against his company for the altered lease. All charges relate to unlicensed operations, including the wholesaling of gasoline which the company was never licensed to import or sell.
While Bess made much ado about “having to fight tooth and nail to get [fuel] released” to him, he is no doubt aware that the many checks and balances put in place not only by the GEA but also the GRA were to ensure that all the fuel imported by his company was taxed appropriately and marked effectively. Naturally, he would have had to report the movement of vessels carrying unmarked fuel, to prevent the sudden disappearance of this product before the request’s legal compliance. This would no doubt be of concern to all citizens, including KN, which on April 20, 2018, published an article titled “Authorities Seize Ship with Smuggled Fuel” concerning a shipment of fuel aboard the Jubilee, a vessel owned by Bess’ company.
The GEA granted Import Licences to small dealers in an attempt to broaden the sources of fuel, generate income and jobs, and create competition within the downstream sector; however, this presented new challenges for the Agency in monitoring the said sector. As a result, additional internal controls were created with the objective of ensuring that all fuel of standard quality was appropriately taxed, marked and distributed to consumers across the country. While this may have placed additional requirements on the smaller importers, a necessary balance had to be struck. SBF’s operations on varying occasions appeared to create new challenges for the Agency; however, we continued to work with them to address same.
The GEA is sympathetic with the employees of SBF whose jobs were lost as a result of the callous acts of its employer; however, GEA calls on those employees, if they are indeed so, to examine the past and present actions of the company and view all facts with objective eyes.
The Board of Directors and Agency will not allow threats of baseless lawsuits, reports to the local and international media, and penning of letters to international representatives and bodies to sway the Agency from enforcing the law. Bess and all others are advised to focus their efforts on the legal means available for dispute resolution rather than engaging in continuous smear campaigns.
The Board of Directors will continue to review and provide guidance to the Agency to ensure fairness, transparency, accountability, and compliance with the law.
Jerome Khan
Chairman, GEA Board