Former SOCU Head being probed for missing confiscated gold, cash
…following recommendations by DPP
Embattled Assistant Police Commissioner Sydney James, the former Head of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), is now under further Police investigation following instructions from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Chambers.
This was confirmed by acting Crime Chief Michael Kingston on Wednesday. Kingston explained that the file pertaining to James had been sent to DPP Senior Counsel Shalimar Ali-Hack by the Police some time ago.
Kingston noted that the Police have, as a consequence, been asked to do some more investigations. While Kingston was tight-lipped on the details of the investigation, reports indicate that it may pertain to money and gold that were previously confiscated and went missing while in SOCU’s possession.
The unit has been in the hot seat for some time with allegations being made against it by persons it would have investigated or had business dealings. In the case of investigations, last year, the High Court had ordered the entity to return millions of dollars’ worth of cash and jewellery to a gold dealer plus costs after the unit seized the items and failed to charge the individual.
SOCU officials had also faced accusations regarding falsified invoices which had borne forged signatures. This was unearthed after a forensic audit was launched by the Guyana Police Force (GPF) into SOCU’s operations earlier this year.
Other irregularities that were unearthed had 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.
The probe into the operations of the white-collar crime-fighting Unit was triggered when the former British adviser to SOCU, Dr Sam Sittlington, made a number of startling allegations against the Unit.
Following the allegations, James was subjected to questioning over allegations of improper spending, as part of the investigation and audit which stemmed after the termination of the British adviser.
Sittlington, an Irish consultant and fraud expert who was contracted by the British High Commission to provide institutional support to SOCU, was fired in February after it was discovered that he had established a local security company.
The move was considered a conflict of interest since the firm, dubbed the Fraud Company Limited, deals with much the same areas as SOCU. The fraud expert has long contended that he was wrongfully fired.
The parliamentary, Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), has meanwhile maintained that SOCU, which was set up to fight money-laundering and other white-collar crimes, had become a political Unit under the APNU/AFC regime.
The PPP had said that Sittlington was going beyond his advisory role and was taking on executive functions. It was pointed out that Sittlington was going on operations such as raids and arrests.
James was eventually sent on leave by the Government to facilitate investigations and an 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.
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.
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.
That matter stemmed from October 2017, when SOCU charged the bank’s directors with contempt based on the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The contempt proceedings stemmed from the bank’s failure to comply with a production order made by acting Chief Justice Roxane George on August 29, 2017.