$36M factory heist - Juice on the run as huge quantities of fruit concentrate ‘walk’ out of a company’s warehouse
The owners of Jamaica Beverages Limited (JBL) have been left with a bitter taste in their mouths after it was discovered that more than $36 million worth of commercial juice concentrate has been stolen from the company's Bog Walk, St Catherine, compound.
JBL is owned by the Trinidad and Tobago-based company S.M. Jaleel, which is the largest manufacturer of non-alcoholic beverage in the Caribbean.
In Jamaica, JBL makes Juciful orange juice, box Fruta and a premium product known as Joose, while the concentrate is also used to mix with other flavours.
The management of the company has been left asking several questions, such as: how did that large amount of
product go missing without anyone noticing, especially with the existence of 24-hour security at the plant?
The answer to that question could rest with two former workers, but the management says they have not returned to work since taking leave just before a check showed that the juice concentrate had gone missing.
"We noticed this incident in April of this year. The two employees took leave at the same time, so we had a new supervisor that came in," said Naim Khan, logistics manager at JBL.
"He (the new supervisor) was asked to find a particular formulation of concentrate, so in searching for it he came upon a lot of empty drums that were stocked as full drums of concentrate. The moment that was reported to us we decided to pull down the warehouse and check it over," added Khan.
The search of the warehouse revealed that several of the 55-gallon drums that were labelled as full with orange juice concentrate were empty, while others were found to contain as little as 10 per cent of potential capacity.
Fraud Squad investigation
The matter was initially reported to the police in Bog Walk, but due to the size of the theft Khan was referred to the Police Fraud Squad.
A member of the Fraud Squad confirmed that the matter was reported on June 8, but said investigations are in the preliminary stages.
"We have just recorded statements and doing our prelims," said the member of the Fraud Squad.
"There are two persons who we suspect based on the investigations. It is suspected that they might be overseas, but no bulletin has been put out as yet, as we want to obtain more information."
The volume of concentrate stolen, the majority of which was made from oranges purchased locally, is said to have been enough to fill 386 of the 55-gallon drums which could have made 200,000 cases of Fruta, with each case containing 24 cans.
"Most of the concentrate that was taken from us is concentrate that we produce locally in Bog Walk,' said Khan.
"There is a premium on concentrate produced locally in Jamaica versus the imported concentrate. The majority of concentrate used in Jamaica is imported from Belize, but the local one is
superior, so that was targeted more than anything else."
But with the specialised environment in which concentrate has to be stored and the precise purpose for which it is used, Khan has been left questioning who would have had an interest in acquiring so much concentrate.
"There are only a few people who deal with concentrate in Jamaica (but) we can't point any fingers at anybody, it is just that the reality is that it is something you can't just move and carry home and store," said Khan.
"Concentrate can only be stored somewhere that has the facility to store it. It was frozen, so it weighed over 600 pounds (each barrel). That volume could have only been moved to someone or some place that has that type of facility."
$4m to beef up for security
But with the theft having occurred over an estimated 18-month period, the police are unable to substantiate Khan's suspicion.
"There is no established timeline as to when it went missing, so as a result of that it would be difficult to ... do any form of search," the member of the Fraud Squad explained.
It is set to cost JBL in the region of $4 million to beef up security at the plant, with some steps having already been taken.
"We have always had a 24-hour security service, but since that time we have put in an alarm system with strobe lights around the entire compound," said Khan.
"Second, we have removed around 32 from our previous location in Portmore and those are to be installed on the premises."