Former Shell employee admits to involvement in gas oil misappropriation worth $49 million

Sadagopan Premnath pleaded guilty to four charges of conspiring to misappropriate gas oil from the company. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - A former employee of oil giant Shell Eastern Petroleum on Tuesday (Dec 15) admitted to being involved in a conspiracy to misappropriate about US$36.1 million (S$49.1 million) worth of gas oil.

Indian national Sadagopan Premnath, 40, pleaded guilty to four charges of conspiring to misappropriate gas oil from the company. Five other similar charges will be taken into consideration during his sentencing.

Sadagopan received about US$150,000 for his involvement in the plot and has not made restitution to Shell.

On Tuesday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong described the scheme as "a long-term and large-scale conspiracy to misappropriate gas oil from the Shell Pulau Bukom manufacturing site."

The court heard that the conspiracy took place over two periods between 2007 and 2018, during which gas oil was taken from Shell's refinery in Pulau Bukom, the largest petrochemical production and export centre in the Asia-Pacific region.

Sadagopan was involved in the scheme between 2017 and 2018.

He was employed by Shell around 2012 and his duties included manually opening or closing large valves, or operating the black oil control panels that digitally controlled the movement of valves.

His basic salary was about $2,400 a month, and $3,400 with shift allowances. With overtime work, he was paid about $4,000 monthly.

He had six co-conspirators who were employed by Shell Pulau Bukom and were part of his work team.

They targeted vessels with Vietnamese and Greek captains to conduct illegal oil trading. According to one of the co-conspirators, Juandi Pungot, it was well-known in the industry that such people would readily conduct illegal oil trading.

They would approach the captains of Vietnamese vessels on an ad-hoc basis, and ask if they were interested in performing illegal loadings.

In mid-2017, Juandi recruited Sadagopan into the syndicate. He agreed to join partly because he was worried that the more senior colleagues might otherwise treat him with hostility.

According to court documents, Sadagopan's primary role was to open or close the necessary valves using the black oil panel, as directed by his co-conspirators.

Initially, he would be told by the more senior ones to move away from the panel that he was operating and let one of them take over control.

Eventually, he controlled the panel based on the instructions from the more senior co-conspirators, who told him when to open and shut the valves to avoid detection. He was often accompanied by a more senior person since he was less familiar with operating the system.

The group was able to avoid detection for so long through several measures.

For example, they configured the flow of misappropriated gas oil through carefully planned routes and ensured multiple pumps and tanks were moving at the same time, including unnecessary tank-to-tank transfers. They also shifted the production of gas oil into the same tank they took from, and timed the misappropriation with the legitimate loading of gas oil so as to not arouse suspicion.

According to court documents, Sadagopan did not know who bought the misappropriated gas oil.

He is scheduled to be in court for mitigation and sentencing on Feb 18 next year.

For each charge of criminal breach of trust, an offender can be jailed for up to 15 years and fined.

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