Govt, SOCU Head, Top Cop mum on fraud findings at SOCU
The audit report into the operations of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) has been completed but Government, the head of that Unit, and the Police Commissioner are mum on its findings and recommendations.
Although the media has already highlighted the findings and recommendation of the audit, which speaks to serious irregularities, including the falsification of records, Attorney General Basil Williams on Monday declined to comment on the issue citing he is yet to receive a copy of report.
“Was the report released formally? I don’t see any official report about SOCU…”, Williams said on Monday.
Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Leslie James, told Guyana Times on Monday afternoon that whatever information has to be disclosed about that report would be done via his Public Relations Officer.
Additionally, the Head of SOCU, Sydney James, when asked about the credibility of the cases that the Unit had pursued and is presently pursuing in light of the damning allegations of fraudulent activities at SOCU, stated that he too would not be commenting on the issue.
“I don’t know. You could talk to the Commissioner, honestly, I don’t know…I don’t want to comment on the matter,” James said.
According to recent reports, the audit of the financial records of SOCU has uncovered serious irregularities, including the falsification of records, and has recommended immediate transfers and a fraud investigation of several of the discrepancies, sources say.
An audit of SOCU, which is a branch of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), was ordered by Police Commissioner Leslie James in February following claims of grave mismanagement, which included the misuse of its operational fund.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has previously said that SOCU’s mandate is not being delivered, especially since it is suspected of taking political directives. He had noted that this was responsible for its failure rate.
SOCU, which had been initially set up to probe financial crimes and strengthen the country’s anti-money laundering architecture, had not been audited since its establishment in 2014.
The Unit had been engaged in major high-profile probes of former People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government officials. The findings of the audit would be seen as a major embarrassment for the current Government.
SOCU has already had several of its cases tossed out of the window by the courts, including a number of charges against former Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) executives and Guyana Bank of Trade and Industry (GBTI) Directors.
In light of these revelations of widespread fraud and financial irregularities within SOCU, the PPP called for the Unit to be closed down.
According to the Party on Friday, the revelations vindicate its many warnings about SOCU deviating from its mandate. In fact, the Party noted that the revelations are just the tip of the iceberg, and that a forensic audit from an outside impartial auditor is needed.
“The materials”, the Party said, “disclosed by the audit have confirmed our worst fears. But we are convinced that it is only the tip of the iceberg.“This Unit has rendered itself absolutely unfit to function as a law enforcement agency and as part of the prosecutorial arm of the State. There is no doubt that both investigations and prosecutions are being compromised by this diabolical outfit, who takes political instructions directly from Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, the Attorney General, and the Ministry of the Presidency”, the Party said.
The Party also called for Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, who is the subject Minister responsible for SOCU, to immediately resign. It noted that the Unit has for some time been giving appearances of unethical behaviour.
“The public was made aware of the unholy relationship between Minister Khemraj Ramjattan; Attorney General Basil Williams; British consultant, Dr Sam Sittlington; and senior functionaries at SOCU; who were sighted jovially sipping wine and champagne at public places after arresting a number of PPP leaders.”
“The public”, the PPP added, “would well remember a former Commissioner of Police publicly distancing himself from the operations of this Unit. Recently, the Director of Public Prosecutions, in a sworn affidavit in a High Court proceeding, made it clear that the Office of the DPP did not advise on a series of criminal charges instituted by this Unit.”
According to the PPP, complaints have been made against the Unit by various business persons. The Party related that businessmen have been shaken down by the Unit and have had their valuables seized.
“Over the years, we have received multiple reports from businessmen that SOCU officers have extracted from them huge sums of monies as bribes, and seized large caches of jewellery, monies and other personal valuables, including quantities of foreign currencies, from their premises without due process, and have converted these assets to their own use.
“We have also received reports of falsification of evidence in prosecutions, and the refusal to disclose materials which the law requires them to do, in order to ensure a fair trial of persons charged,” the Party said. “This contamination of the criminal justice system strikes at the very foundation of the rule of law.”