Home Top Stories British High Commission holds off on further collaboration with SOCU
The British Government is currently awaiting the outcome of the recent probe conducted into allegations of fraud at the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) before determining the way forward in terms of collaborating with the agency.
This is according to British High Commissioner to Guyana, Greg Quinn, who told reporters on the sidelines of an event on Tuesday that while they are reviewing relations with SOCU internally, his Government is still willing to continue its relations with the Unit.
“We’ve been assisting SOCU from the inception so there is certainly an expectation that we would get requests to continue to work with SOCU and I wouldn’t rule out that. We would continue to work with SOCU going forward,” he stated.
However, High Commissioner Quinn outlined the importance of SOCU operating within the confines of what it was created to do. This, he noted, has been the goal of all the assistance the country has been providing to the investigative body, which has now been slapped with damning fraud allegations.
“We’ll certainly consider any requests going forward… But there is also the question of the current investigation that’s going on in SOCU and we’d want to be sure of the outcome of that because, fundamentally and ultimately, whatever we want to be done, we want to do with an organisation that’s operating the way it should be,” he stated.
The British envoy went on to note, however, they are at the stage where they are trying to figure out what might be feasible going forward given the fact that this is the last term for the existing programme which former UK Advisor, Dr Sam Sittlington, was on.
Dr Sittlington, who was fired by the UK Government back in January over a private fraud company he had set up here, was brought as an advisor to SOCU on a three-year contract. The fraud expert’s tenure in Guyana would have been up in March 2020 and according to High Commissioner Quinn, there was never any intention of extending or continuing that programme.
However, the British diplomat told Guyana Times, when asked, that now that circumstances have changed and the work is undone, then there is a possibility that his Government can start a new programme with a new expert but this, he insists, will depend on the outcome of the current fraud probe at SOCU.
“So we are still at the stage where we’re trying to figure out what might be feasible given the fact that we are already nearly three months into what might have been the last year of the contract anyway. So we have to figure out whether by the time we have someone trained up, selected and ready (to take over) how much time they might actually have left to do some work within SOCU… But it might actually be easier for us to look at a future programme and future series of activities separate from what (already) we have here,” High Commissioner Quinn pointed out.
SOCU, the orgainsation that is supposed to be investigating fraud, has found itself under scrutiny in recent months after allegations of fraud were levelled against the agency, which falls under the Guyana Police Force (GPF).
The audit that was conducted by the Police Force had unearthed irregularities that included falsified records and missing documents. According to reports, there was even a case of an official who alleged his signature was forged. In addition, there are reports of listed expenditure being concocted and receipts being backdated.
Last week, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan told media operatives that the file of the fraud probe has been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for legal advice. The Minister had noted that there is a possibility that criminal charges may be filed against officers found culpable.
According to Ramjattan, the audit into SOCU made some damning allegations and legal advice will be needed on how to proceed.
“It is not a nice report. It had some damning allegations. But these are operational matters now, the implementation of the recommendations is in the hands of the (Police) Commissioner. I understand the Commissioner, because of the damning nature of the allegations, has decided to take it to the DPP’s Chambers and the legal advisers. That will take some time,” Ramjattan had stated.
The Public Security Minister had noted that even a restructuring of the Unit is not on the table, adding that fixing SOCU requires that the recommendations from the fraud probe be followed.
According to Ramjattan, they have not sat down with Sydney James to have him defend his Unit against the findings of the auditors.
Despite this however, the parliamentary Opposition People’s Progressive Party had called for the shutting down of the Unit in light of these allegations. But Ramjattan does not believe the now tainted integrity of the Unit will affect the many cases pending, most of which are against officials of the former PPP Administration.
The PPP had long accused the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change coalition of using SOCU as part of a witching hunting exercise against former Government officials.