Opposition Leader calls for broadened probe of SOCU’s top officials
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has called for a more broadened probe into allegations of corruption at the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) and, more so, what he called its “top-level political officials”.
Jagdeo made the call at his weekly press conference and on the heels of a Police investigation which was launched into Assistant Police Commissioner and former Head of SOCU, Sydney James, following recommendations from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Chambers.
Acting Crime Chief Michael Kingston on Wednesday confirmed that Police were advised by the DPP to further investigate several issues at SOCU.
Kingston was tight-lipped on the details of the investigations; however, reports indicate that it involves gold and cash which were confiscated and went missing while in SOCU’s possession.
The Unit has been under fire for some time now with several allegations of corruption and improprieties being made against it by persons it would have investigated and had business dealings with.
Earlier this year, a forensic audit into SOCU’s operations was launched by the Guyana Police Force (GPF). Following the audit, accusations were made against officials attached to the Unit regarding falsified invoices bearing forged signatures. According to reports, there was even a case of an official who alleged that his signature was forged.
Other irregularities that were unearthed include falsified records as well as missing documents. There were also 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’ Courts. The charges brought by SOCU against Guyana Rice Development Board officials were also thrown out.