Home Top Stories Deputy Director’s action may affect ongoing probes – Sydney James
SOCU’s lead investigator’s resignation
– as Jagdeo promises restructuring of SOCU under PPP
The recent shakeup at the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) when at least two top officials vacated their jobs for various reasons could have implications for some of the current cases being investigated.
This is according to SOCU Head, Assistant Police Commissioner Sydney James, who in a brief interview with this publication noted that while the resignation of SOCU Deputy Head Sheronie James could affect some cases, legal advice on the way forward will be sought.
“It might affect ongoing cases and I’ll have to get legal advice on that because as you know if she was giving evidence or had done an investigation and it is before the courts that might be a challenge. But I think the legal people will give us advice.”
In the case of James, reports had indicated that she resigned after a local magistrate disqualified her as an expert witness based on her lack of qualifications. The case in question is the contempt trial of officials from the Guyana Bank of Trade and Industry. But she is not the only one.
On Thursday, British High Commissioner Greg Quinn had revealed that SOCU Advisor Sam Sittlington was fired by the United Kingdom Government with immediate effect. It had been revealed that Sittlington, who was on British payroll, set up a private investigative company in Guyana, something the High Commissioner noted, was a potential conflict of interest. When asked, James noted that the revelations came as a surprise to him.
“Dr Sittlington, to the best of my recollection, was doing the work that he was doing. I was surprised that he had registered a company. But maybe only Dr Sittlington can answer why he did what he did,” James related.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has said that should the People’s Progressive Party win office, the unit will be restructured to focus its investigations on narcotics and money laundering.
During a press conference on Friday, Jagdeo zeroed in on the unit and criticised its focus on former Government officials rather than its original mandate.
“You have to recall who set up SOCU and why. It was the People’s Progressive Party who set up SOCU, under the authority of the Commissioner of Police. And SOCU was set up to support the FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit) to go after drug dealers and money launderers.”
“This Government, when it took office, converted SOCU into an assault unit against their political opponents. And SOCU had different reporting relationships then. This was an apparatus set up to harass PPP officials.”
According to the PPP General Secretary, that will all change should his party be elected to office. He noted that for one, the Commissioner of Police will have full autonomy over the unit.
“SOCU and the other places will return to their traditional role under the PPP. Not to harass political opponents, but to go after illicit money in the system, under the authority of the Police Commissioner, not under the authority of any politician,” he added.
The parliamentary Opposition has long accused Government of using the unit to target PPP officials, a charge the Government has denied. This was even as former Government officials including Jagdeo were questioned at SOCU in cases like the allocation of the “Pradoville 2” lands.
The tables were turned when Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson was flagged by the Public Procurement Commission for his role in sole-sourcing the new Demerara River bridge feasibility study. After much agitation from the Opposition, SOCU began investigating this case.
But for some time, the Opposition criticised the fact that Minister Patterson was not summoned for questioning but was instead allowed to provide statements to SOCU, in contrast to the treatment meted out to former Government officials during the Pradoville 2 probe.
After much pressure from the Opposition, SOCU did take the Minister in for questioning on November 19, 2018. The file has since been sent to the Guyana Police Force legal adviser.