Puerto Rico: Company Misappropriated Millions of Dollars Amid a Dire Economic Crisis

Published: 24 June 2016

PREPAPuerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) (Photo Credit: Wikimedia)

By Daniela Castro

Puerto Rico’s biggest oil supplier Petro West was accused of embezzling US$ 11 million in public funds from the already heavily indebted state-owned company Electric Power Authority (PREPA), in the midst of a critical economic crisis. 

On Monday, Justice Secretary Cesar Miranda announced the filing of 46 criminal charges against Jose Gonzalez Amador and his company, related to illegal acts in the fuel sale.  

“This crime is unacceptable and we cannot tolerate those who steal the money of our contributions, especially when we are facing an unprecedented economic crisis,” said Miranda. 

The PREPA plans to increase the utility bills – already twice those of the U.S. mainland on average – by more than 20 percent, according to the Associated Press

The accusation is the result of an investigation carried out by Puerto Rican Department of Justice, on the purchase of fuel by the PREPA. 

The commission identified that in the past four fiscal years, the company Petro West charged PREPA a 0.5 percent municipal tax on all the fuel sales invoices, even though some municipalities granted them a lower tax rate or waived the tax altogether, like the municipalities of Hormigueros and Arecibo, said Miranda.

Petro West allegedly also served as a front company for the multinational oil trading company Trafigura, which was banned from doing businesses with state agencies, according to a press release from the Puerto Rican senate. Trafigura was found guilty of illegally exporting toxic waste to Ivory Coast. 

The Puerto Rican government has at it disposal legal tools to recover the public funds that were lost or diverted as a result of illicit acts committed by companies. 

Petro West would have to return to PREPA about US$ 30 million, said Jose Perez Velez, the director of the Independent Office for Consumer Protection (OIPC, for its initials in Spanish), in a press release

PREPA’s executive director, Javier Quintana, said on Monday that the company had cancelled the contract with Petro West after the recent allegations, according to El Vocero

Judge Karem M. Alvarez Echeandia will determine on June 28 whether there is enough evidence for the case against Gonzalez Amador to go to trial, according to CNBC

The sentence for charges on aggravated illegal appropriation is from eight years and one day to 15 years. If found guilty of all the charges, Gonzalez Amador could spend more than 300 years in prison, said Amber Velez, press officer of the Department of Justice, according to El Vocero.