Revealed: intrigues that led to the deportation of Rubis boss

Jean-Christian Bergeron

Rubis Energy Kenya Managing Director Jean-Christian Bergeron during a past interview at the firm’s Nairobi office. He was deported on April 13, 2022 over the ongoing fuel crisis.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Kenyans continue to spend long hours queuing at petrol stations to buy fuel as shortage persists.
  • Energy ministry tells marketers to leave if they won’t listen to the government.

A stormy meeting on Wednesday between government officials and oil executives on the raging fuel crisis triggered dramatic events that would culminate in the deportation of Rubis Energy Kenya MD Jean-Christian Bergeron.

The previous day, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i had spoken to French ambassador Aline Kuster-Ménager on the government’s concerns over the activities of Rubis and the punitive action it planned to take.

This was yet another attempt to reach a compromise as negotiations between marketers and the Energy ministry officials on Monday were not making headway, with Kenyan officials accusing Rubis of frustrating the talks with “unreasonable demands”.

Rubis, an independent French firm with operations in Europe, the Caribbean and Africa, is being blamed by the government for fuelling the shortage, given that it has a huge share of the local market. 

It supplies fuel to small independent oil firms, which explains why most have run out of stock.

Rubis is accused of blackmailing the government by demanding higher compensation, yet a large consignment of its fuel had reportedly been imported before global prices shot up due to the war in Ukraine.

A source familiar with discussions said Rubis presented the government with two options.

One, to be allowed to sell the fuel at the prevailing market prices of Sh175 a litre, or the government increases compensation under the fuel subsidy programme, which would mean it tops up the difference – Sh41 – to cushion the consumer and maintain the price at Sh134.

But the government insisted this was unfair, arguing that Rubis was seeking to reap more profits despite holding old stock. 

At best, the government argued, the justifiable compensation technically was Sh24 per litre, which it would still have to struggle to meet, given it only collects Sh5.40 for the subsidy.

Even more unreasonable, a source familiar with the talks told the Nation, was the demand by Rubis that it be paid the compensation upfront.

According to a report tabled in Parliament, the government owes oil firms Sh14.5 billion, of which Sh6 billion is a pending refund for the February to March cycle. 

The remaining Sh8.5 billion is the entire amount for the March-April cycle, which ends today. 

The government has paid Sh34.6 billion to oil marketers since April last year so as to cushion the consumers from high prices. 

Petroleum Principal Secretary Andrew Kamau said the government was to pay oil firms Sh14 billion yesterday.

Energy Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma yesterday accused some unnamed oil marketers of hoarding the commodity in anticipation of the price reviews – without the subsidy, petroleum would retail at Sh175 per litre – that “will provide them with a cash windfall”.

Dr Juma said it was unacceptable that some companies had resorted to diverting cargo earmarked for the local market to Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, “where they can fetch higher prices”.

The Cabinet Secretary termed the speculative behaviour “insensitive” to Kenyans and asked the firms that are not willing to listen to the government to “vacate the market”.

In the boardroom negotiations, the twin demands by Rubis were not acceptable to government.

Higher fuel prices in an election year was not an option and payment of the higher fuel subsidy upfront to the oil firms by a National Treasury struggling with finances wasn’t either.

Meanwhile, as the grandstanding continued, Kenyans endured long fuel queues.

The hunt for fuel was becoming a day and night job for Kenyans already battered by the increasingly high cost of living.

Energy ministry officials convened yet another meeting with oil executives on Wednesday. 

But things reportedly went downhill when Mr Bergeron remarked that his only allegiance was to “profits”, a statement Mr Kamau did not take kindly. 

That is what prompted the decision by the Interior ministry to deport him. 

When the CS and the ambassador had spoken on Tuesday, the embassy asked Kenya not to enforce the deportation until next Tuesday to allow a settlement, but it would appear Mr Bergeron’s statement was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

When asked about the encounter with Mr Bergeron yesterday, Mr Kamau said: “I don’t recall.”

The French embassy told the Nation that it was waiting for the government to issue a statement on the matter before making an official statement. An official at the embassy also declined to respond to queries on Mr Bergeron. 

Dr Matiang’i signed the deportation order at 4pm on Wednesday. As the events unfolded, Mr Bergeron was holed up in his office at Rose Avenue, off Lenana Road. He was there by 7pm, planning his exit. 

Yesterday, Dr Juma said Mr Bergeron left the country on Wednesday night.

Additional reporting by Peter Mburu


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