Guyana’s Attorney General Basil Williams has admitted that the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), under his watch, has been a mess, from failing to carry out successful investigations to failed prosecutions.
He also expressed disappointment in the Unit’s ineffectiveness since it was established.
He made these comments at a Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (ML&TF) National Risk Assessment Seminar on Thursday at the Pegasus Hotel, Kingston Georgetown.
“One of the things we have to deal with is the question of investigations, prosecutions and convictions for money laundering offences, which I believe from 2015 to now, we haven’t had any, not one…we’ve seen the evaluation of all [of] the countries and they[‘ve] all fail[ed]. Some of them have hundreds and they still are not effective depending on the nature of economies but we haven’t had any; it’s remarkable and we have to look at that because that’s a gaping wound in the AML/CFT side… you’ve mentioned that you’ve increased some employment in SOCU. SOCU is a mess, so we have to reorganise SOCU and we have to make it effective,” the Attorney General stated.
SOCU has been under fire for some time now with several allegations of corruption and mismanagement being made against it by persons it would have investigated and had business dealings with.
Earlier this year, a forensic audit into SOCU’s operations was launched by the Guyana Police Force (GPF). The audit found cases of falsified invoices bearing forged signatures.
Other irregularities that were unearthed include falsified records as well as missing documents. There were also reports of listed expenditure being concocted and receipts being backdated.
Recently, a Police investigation was launched against Assistant Police Commissioner Sydney James, the former Head of SOCU, following recommendations from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Chambers.
James was eventually sent on leave by the Government to facilitate investigations and acting Head of SOCU, Althea Padmore, was appointed. Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan has said publicly that with all that has happened, James will not be returning.
However, besides the fraud allegations, SOCU has failed to secure convictions in the cases it brought to court. It was only in March of this year that contempt of court charges brought by SOCU against eight top executives of GBTI were thrown out by the Magistrates Court. The charges brought by SOCU against Guyana Rice Development Board officials were also thrown out.
SOCU was established in 2014 on the recommendation of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and was intended to be a Police unit operating under the authority of the Police Commissioner but with a close relationship to the FIU.
A few years ago, Jagdeo stated that SOCU was created with the sole purpose of investigating money laundering and the financing of terrorism under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing for Terrorism (AMLCFT) Act, but is now the operational arm that is being used to target Opposition members.
“This concern of the parliamentary opposition is further bolstered by recent public statements by Cabinet Ministers which are particularly ominous,” Jagdeo had stated.
He further reminded that during the 2016 Budget Debates, in February, the Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, promised to make the protocols that guide SOCU’s operations public in a matter of weeks, a promise he is still to fulfil.
It was SOCU which led a botched high-speed chase on the car transporting the wife of PPP/C Parliamentarian Charles Ramson Jr, resulting in three persons being killed and the subsequent declaration by the Government that there will be no investigation into the incident, while no agency or person has so far accepted responsibility.
Jagdeo said that the fact that $40 million has been allocated in the 2016 Budget of the Ministry of the Presidency for a “top-up” of the SOCU staff is highly suspect and facilitates an environment for overt political interference.
As such, Jagdeo had alerted the Guyanese public, civil society bodies, the diplomatic, and donor communities of what he terms “worrying developments which are an indicator of creeping authoritarianism undermining democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
In 2017, former Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Roger Luncheon; former Chairman of the Private Sector Commission, Ramesh Dookhoo; daughter of former President Donald Ramotar and General Manager of Guyana Gold Board, Lisaveta Ramotar; son of former Labour Minister Nanda Gopaul, Dr Gansham Singh; former Deputy Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), Marcia Nadir-Sharma and former Minister of Natural Resources Robert Persaud were arrested by SOCU for “conspiracy to defraud the State of revenue”.