Govt Minister questions effectiveness of SOCU

The Government’s failure to obtain any convictions based on the findings of the forensic audits it initiated has caused Minister within the Finance Ministry, Jaipaul Sharma, to question whether this may be because of an ineffective Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).
Sharma was at the time addressing concerns raised by Opposition parliamentarian Nigel Dharamlall. Dharamlall recalled that Sharma had previously professed frustration at the non-existent rate of prosecution. Sharma readily admitted to this.
“I’m annoyed that there are no prosecutions. I’m saying I want to know why there are no prosecutions. Is SOCU not doing its work? Is the legislation weak? What really happened? I know there are issues. Our auditors do not have the authority to summon people to give statements.
“They don’t have the authority to go in people’s accounts,” Sharma pointed out. “They can’t arrest people. The auditors did their assessments based on paperwork. The Police are the ones who have the authority.”
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 with the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).
When Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan had introduced an amendment to the Guyana Police Force’s Standing Order No 62, it had outlined SOCU’s responsibilities to investigate beyond terrorism and money laundering; it was tasked to probe participation in an organised criminal group and racketeering; trafficking in human beings and migrant smuggling and sexual exploitation, including the sexual exploitation of children.
It also has to investigate illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances; illicit arms and ammunition trafficking; corruption and bribery; fraud; counterfeiting and piracy of products; environmental crimes; murder; grievous bodily harm; kidnapping, illegal restraint and hostage taking; robbery or theft; smuggling; extortion; forgery; piracy; insider trading and market manipulation; tax evasion and gold smuggling.
While SOCU had arrested and questioned several members of the previous Administration, its exploits against money launderers are not as well-known. SOCU has, however, been benefiting from the services of a United Kingdom (UK)-sponsored white collar crime adviser, Dr Sam Sittlington.
The Financial Action Task Force/CFATF conducts peer reviews of member countries to assess levels of implementation of their Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) recommendations. These mutual evaluations provide in-depth data and analysis of each country’s system for preventing criminal abuse of the financial system.
At a press conference in April, Attorney General Basil Williams had revealed that Guyana would not exit the fourth round of evaluations by the CFATF unless convictions could be secured.
On Thursday, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) parliamentarians called for the resignation of Dr Sittlington, accusing him of turning a blind eye to the many instances of Government corruption.
This call was made at an anti-bribery and corruption forum organised for members of the National Assembly on Wednesday that was held in the Parliament Chambers.